Kansas Balances Budget on the Backs of the Poor

Sam BrownbackWe should not be happy about this, Brownback to Sign Historic Sales Tax Hike After Bruising Budget Battle. As I’ve written about a lot around here, Kansas is in big trouble. Governor Sam Brownback wanted to cut taxes in his state. So he did what conservatives always do when they want to do something insane: he went out and found himself a heterodox economist who would tell him what he wanted to hear. It wasn’t hard. He went to Art Laffer who has been saying that tax cuts pay for themselves since the 1970s. He’s always been wrong, but that hardly matters.

So in the case of the recent tax cuts in Kansas, Laffer was wrong again, and the state has found itself with a huge budget deficit — 12% short in the fiscal year starting next month. They’ve already savagely cut their spending so now they are to the point where they have no choice but to raise taxes. Now the logical thing to do would be to raise the taxes that they lowered. But that is not acceptable. You see, those taxes were lowered on rich people. And despite what conservatives say, they don’t care about low taxes in a general sense; they care about low taxes on the rich.

You know Grover Norquist — the guy who all the Republicans rush to so they can sign his pledge to never raise taxes. Well, that pledge isn’t actually about all taxes. It’s just a pledge to stand against increasing “the marginal income tax rates.” That’s because the federal income tax is the only federal tax that is progressive. Richer people really do pay more. (Extremely rich people don’t, because they make “unearned” income.) When Congress was set to raise the payroll tax — an extremely regressive tax that hits the poor hard — Norquist was all for it. So just remember that: conservatives are for lowering the taxes of the wealthy; they don’t care about the taxes of anyone else.

The Kansas legislature came up with two tax increases to make up for the corporate giveaways of the last couple of years. The first is an almost 6% (0.35 percentage point) increase in the sales tax. Sales taxes are great from the standpoint of conservatives. They screw the poor, but inch by inch, so that it isn’t really noticed. Are you really going to notice that your laundry soap costs two cents more? Sure, the hundred bucks you lose for the year will be noticeable, but you won’t know who to blame; you’ll just have a vague feeling that you are falling behind — because you are.

The second tax increase is going to be noticed. And it is going to make people mad. Kansas currently taxes a pack of cigarettes 79 cents. The new law will increase that by $1.29 — that’s a total of $2.08 tax on a pack of cigarettes. Now you might say, “Great! We should discourage smoking!” And I agree to some extent. But poor people are more likely to smoke. And if we are doing this for public health reasons, the tax should go toward helping people get off cigarettes and toward treating cigarette related illnesses. This Kansas tax is just meant to grab some money from the most vulnerable people in our society.

Remember: Sam Brownback was just re-elected governor. And what he is doing now is going to make a lot of people really angry. Yet this is no bait-and-switch. Brownback is doing what he’s always done. This is more of what I wrote about recently, Swing State Voter Regret Is Killing Me. When the price of a pack of cigarettes jumps up to $7.00, there will be a lot of Kansans who will think they’ve been screwed by Brownback and his cronies. But they’ll be wrong. A lot of poor and middle class people vote for people like Brownback thinking that he would never hurt them. They are deeply confused. Maybe some day they will learn.


I know a surprising number of people who are on disability who are Fox News addicts who consistently vote Republican. When I ask them why they vote for politicians who will, if they get the opportunity, cut their support, they brush it off. The Republicans, they claim, just want to get “those” people — the scammers — not good deserving people like themselves. It’s pure delusion.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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