INSIGHT KANSAS: Brownback and his policies are out of touch
NOVEMBER 5, 2015 BY HAYS POST 5 by H. Edward Flentje
The far-right Republicans who have commandeered the Kansas Republican Party and taken control of the executive and legislative branches of state government are strikingly out of touch with the vast majority of Kansans, including members of their own party, according to the recent annual survey conducted by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs, Fort Hays State University.
The survey indicates that this partisan faction has advanced policies over the past five years that are out of sync with the preferences of Kansans on a broad range of issues, such as block grants for schools, guns on college campuses, Medicaid expansion, same-sex marriage, immigration policy, and election fraud, among others.
However, these partisans are most dramatically insulated from Kansans’ views on what they claim as their signature achievement, their actions to eliminate the state income tax. According to the survey Kansans express opposition to this radical tax policy on a number of fronts.
For starters, 61 percent of survey respondents say that this tax policy has been a failure in terms of economic growth; 30 percent say it has been “a tremendous failure.” Only one in nine Republicans surveyed said that the tax policy has been a success.
Those surveyed also do not believe their tax burden has been reduced. When asked to consider sales, property, and state income taxes, 74 percent say their tax burden has increased. Only 5 percent say it has decreased. These respondents must be aware that income tax cuts have resulted in two rounds of hundred-million dollar state sales tax increases plus tax shifts onto property taxes totaling well into the hundreds of millions.
Nearly two thirds of those surveyed say taxes on top income earners should be increased, a preference in direct opposition to sales tax boosts advocated by Governor Sam Brownback and legislative leaders. The one tax that reaches those with higher incomes is the income tax. Sales taxes shift the tax burden from those with higher incomes onto those with lower incomes.
Over half of the Kansans surveyed also express support for exempting food from the state sales tax, an action that would soften the impact of sales tax increases on those with lower incomes. However, the dire condition of state finance caused by income tax cuts forestalled such proposals in the legislature.
Survey respondents expressed displeasure with the performance of Brownback who has championed the tax plan as his legacy. Dissatisfaction with the governor’s performance has ballooned to 69 percent, up from 31 percent during his first year in office. Over half of Republicans surveyed express dissatisfaction with Brownback.
Positive appraisal of Brownback has fallen every year since the tax cuts first passed in 2012, to the point that only 18 percent of the respondents in this year’s survey express satisfaction with his performance. A meager 30 percent of the Republicans surveyed expressed satisfaction with Brownback’s performance.
What is going on here? Kansas voters elected and reelected these right-wing lawmakers to office in 2010, 2012, and 2014. What explains this chasm between what Kansans say they want and the actions of their elected representative? Several factors are in play.
Interest group funding of thousands of campaign postcards attacking challengers aided these incumbent officeholders. The $17 million in undisclosed, outside money that flooded the 2014 U.S. senate race and demonized the opposition swayed uncertain voters. Some voters were more motivated by social issues such as abortion than state taxes. Primary elections and restrictions on election access also gave advantage to an energized minority. And too many eligible voters simply did not vote.
Only Kansas voters can bridge this gulf between the governed and those governing.
H. Edward Flentje is professor emeritus at Wichita State University.