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The Monsters Created in Republican State Laboratories

Jul. 18, 2017
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Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Republicans who hate the big, bad federal government often argue state governments are better suited to become “the laboratories of democracy.” States are smaller, more flexible and, for a while at least, can get away with conducting experiments on their citizens. The problem is mad scientist Republican governors keep creating terrifying monsters in their laboratories that rampage through their states, devouring school children and destroying their economies.

The carnage got so bad in Kansas and Illinois that legislative Republicans finally wrestled two of the nation’s most deranged right-wing governors into straitjackets and began repairing the damage they’d done. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker remains at large with no intervention in sight.

Massive, irresponsible Republican tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy are politically popular right up to the point where government can no longer deliver basic services that make every community livable and ordinary lives bearable. And it’s all to make the richest people on Earth richer.


Welfare for the Wealthy

The diabolical experiments in Kansas and Illinois—just like Walker’s experiments on Wisconsin workers—exposed the fraudulence of a right-wing myth: that taking money and government services away from poor people and middle-class workers struggling to survive to give massive tax cuts to the wealthy benefits everyone. Well, at least it benefits everyone Republicans care about. Most economists say the only beneficiaries of trickle-down economics are those at the top who amuse themselves by trickling down on all the rest of us. That doesn’t stop Republicans from continuing to give their wealthy donors bigger and bigger tax cuts. At least until their states go broke from all the lost revenue.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, like Walker, was a Republican extremist elected in the 2010 racist Tea Party backlash against President Barack Obama. Brownback vowed to make Kansas “a real live experiment” to prove once and for all the Republican theory that cutting taxes for the wealthy would create an unbelievable economic boom. It turned out to be totally unbelievable, all right. Brownback eliminated his state’s top tax rate, resulting in a 26% tax cut for the state’s wealthiest taxpayers. He also exempted owners of Kansas businesses from having to pay any income tax at all.

Brownback created a sort of business boom, but not the kind he expected: Before the business tax cut, Kansas had 191,000 small businesses; after he created that handy loophole, 330,000 Kansans suddenly pretended they were small businesses so they wouldn’t have to pay any taxes. Instead of an economic boom, Brownback’s enormous tax cuts over seven years created an economic disaster. Guess what? Enormous state tax cuts create enormous state deficits.

After burning through every cash reserve and drastically cutting all state services, Kansas still faced a $900 million budget shortfall this year. School years were cut short under what the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in March was an unconstitutionally underfunded school system. Brownback’s completely unfounded belief that enormous tax cuts for the wealthy would somehow magically create more government revenue as a result of a booming economy should sound familiar. One of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s earliest political jobs in Washington in 1995 was as Kansas U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback’s legislative director.


GOP Lawmakers Back Away from Economic Extremists

Kansas Republicans joined Democrats last month to override Brownback’s veto of their budget proposal to begin rolling back the state’s massive tax cuts, restore a higher tax bracket for the wealthy and raise $1.9 billion in needed revenue. Illinois Republicans and Democrats did much the same a few weeks later, overriding a veto by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner to finally pass a budget to fund public services. Illinois was in even worse shape financially than Kansas, facing $15 billion in unpaid bills, a $6 billion state deficit and threats that credit-rating agencies would reduce state borrowing to junk bond status.

Finally, Republican governors are paying for their reckless tax cuts and financial mismanagement. In Wisconsin, Walker got away with murder in his first budget when he closed a $3.6 billion budget deficit by destroying public employee union rights and taking those billions directly out of the paychecks of state workers and his state’s economy. Now, Walker is actually running for re-election bragging about producing $8 billion in tax cuts as governor. It might not be so smart to remind voters of that.

Walker’s tax cuts, like all Republican tax cuts, overwhelmingly went to the wealthy. Walker not only balanced his budget on the backs of working people but rubbed it in by showering the money he took from them on millionaires and billionaires. And, as his second term closes, Walker still hasn’t created the 250,000 jobs he promised for workers in his first term. With working people throughout the state still struggling to climb out of the deep economic hole Walker dug for them, he might not want to boast about sending billions of dollars in tax cuts to the wealthiest people in Wisconsin.


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