As part of Moral Mondays at the Iowa State Capitol, Iowa advocates and lawmakers this week heard a cautionary tale from Annie McKay of Kansas Action for Children and Duane Goossen of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth.
At a time when Iowa lawmakers are considering significant tax cuts, McKay and Goossen, who analyze and promote child policies and conduct analysis of the Kansas state budget, traveled to Des Moines to outline the effects of what has become known as the “Kansas experiment,” a set of draconian tax cuts passed in 2012.
At that time, Goossen recounted, Gov. Sam Brownback promised the cuts would bring an economic boom to the state, with rising employment and personal income. People would move to Kansas. It would be, the governor said, “like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of Kansas economy.”
But, five years on, the promised economic boom has not arrived.
“Business tax cuts were supposed to be magic, they were supposed to spur job growth — and they didn’t,” said Goossen, a former Republican state legislator and state budget director under three governors.
In fact, since 2012 job growth in Kansas has lagged behind its Midwestern neighbors, including Iowa. The state has, however, seen years of revenue shortfalls and damaging budget cuts, eroding critical public services like K-12 and higher education, human services, public safety and highway construction.
In this period, the state has depleted its budget reserves, robbed its highway fund to shore up its general fund, borrowed money and deferred payments in order to balance the budget. Kansas has experienced three credit downgrades. Lawmakers have raised the sales tax twice and repealed tax credits that helped low-income families make ends meet. (In fact, the bottom 40 percent of Kansans actually pays more in taxes today than before the 2012 tax cuts went into effect.)
These actions have real impacts. Last year, Kansas saw the third biggest drop in child well-being among states as documented by Kids Count. Its 3rd grade reading proficiency ranking fell from 13th to 30th.
“What we did in Kansas – there is no proof behind it,” McKay said.
Iowans today are better positioned to stand up to damaging tax cuts than their Kansas counterparts were five years ago, McKay said. “We did not that have same people power in 2012.” She advised Iowa advocates to make crystal clear how all the issues currently generating widespread interest — education, health and water quality among them — are linked to the state’s ability to raise adequate revenue.
“You are ahead of where we were,” she said. “You have the opportunity to not be like Kansas.”
McKay and Goossen’s talk Feb. 13 at the Iowa State Capitol was coordinated by the Iowa Fiscal Partnership (a joint effort of CFPC and the Iowa Policy Project) and supported by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. CFPC, through its Every Child Counts initiative, is one of more than two dozen sponsors of Moral Mondays, a weekly gathering during session to highlight issues that advance Iowa values like equality, fairness and justice.