Kansas is a cautionary tale for Arizona

A continuing series

There are political fissures beginning to appear in the Tea-Publican one party control in the Republic of Brownbackistan fna Kansas and their devotion to the false religion dogma of trickle-down economics. Democrats gained 13 legislative seats in the Kansas legislature this past November by rejecting the tax cut dogma that has imperiled the state’s finances and put the state’s public schools at risk.

Democrats in Arizona can learn from their counterparts in Kansas by taking a strong stand for tax reform to support public education and other vital programs.

The New York Times reports, In Kansas, Where Republicans and Fiscal Woes Reign, Democrats Made Inroads:

DorothyBrett Parker, an elementary school teacher and rookie politician, was a Democrat running against a Republican incumbent in a Republican state that the Republican presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump, clinched by 20 percentage points.

In spite of all that, Mr. Parker will be sworn into the Kansas House of Representatives next month, one of 13 legislative seats the Democrats picked up here.

In this election year, voters across Kansas leaned firmly to the right at the federal level, but showed far more nuance when it came to their state. In parts of Kansas, they punished conservative legislators linked to Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax-cutting doctrine, instead gravitating toward moderate Republicans and Democrats like Mr. Parker who blame the governor and his legislative allies for imperiling the state’s finances and putting public schools at risk.

For generations, Republicans have dominated Kansas politics, and that seems unlikely to change any time soon. Many voters here believe strongly in the party’s message on issues such as abortion and gun rights and want limits on government spending. But some of those same Republicans have grown frustrated during Governor Brownback’s six-year tenure with perpetual budget shortfalls, cuts to road projects, rollbacks to social services and, especially resonant here in Overland Park, perceived budget threats to public schools.

Kansas, which faces a roughly $350 million budget shortfall this fiscal year and is projected to have a larger one next year, is among 24 states recently reporting lower-than-expected revenue collections, and may serve as a cautionary tale for those other states and their political leaders.

Here, conservatives attribute much of the strain to downturns in the agriculture and energy industries, both central elements in the Kansas economy. Others question whether the cuts and deficits are symptomatic of a political swing that went too far to the right.

“The pendulum finally snapped,” said Brian Brown, a Republican who lives in Mr. Todd’s House district, but who spurned his own party and volunteered for Mr. Parker’s campaign.

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Mr. Brownback, who took office after eight years of Democratic governors, has led a rightward policy shift. He signed legislation rolling back income taxes and eliminating some business taxes, all the while assuring voters that economic growth would help make up for lost revenue.

The type of growth Mr. Brownback counted on has not materialized, though, and the state’s revenue estimates have repeatedly been off by wide margins, forcing years of cuts to state agencies and reductions in government services. Mr. Brownback, who has promised to announce next month a way to deal with the latest deficit, has defended the tax cuts and criticized past government spending levels as too high.

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Distaste for the governor, combined with a decreased emphasis on social issues like abortion, created an opening for candidates like Mr. Parker, who campaigned largely on the budget and the threat he said conservative policy-making posed to public schools.

“It’s hard to wrap your head around the hole we’re in,” Mr. Parker said.

In Olathe, the nearby suburb where he teaches, Mr. Parker said staff layoffs, reduced janitorial service and the elimination of Spanish classes for elementary students had already taken a toll.

Education and fears about more budget strain helped lift Mr. Parker and other candidates in suburban districts, where grass-roots parent groups emerged as a new political force.

One group, Stand Up Blue Valley, named for a school district, endorsed Mr. Parker and several other legislative candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, who campaigned on education issues.

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“People are so fed up, so tired, frustrated, of what is happening to our great state,” said Jennifer Jarrell, a former Republican precinct committeewoman who became involved with Stand Up Blue Valley.

But moderates and Democrats also made gains outside suburban Kansas City, and education was hardly the only issue that drove voters to the polls. A collection of grass-roots groups called the Save Kansas Coalition pushed for a return to political centrism and brought attention to topics as diverse as Medicaid expansion and the method for selecting judges.

In Hutchinson, home to about 40,000 people near the state’s middle, Patsy Terrell said a road project had been put off because of the budget woes, frustrating voters. “That means jobs, and not just jobs, but good-paying jobs, as well as updating our infrastructure,” said Ms. Terrell, a Democrat who won a first term in the Legislature, beating a 25-year incumbent.

In a House district in Newton, a railroad town north of Wichita, Tim Hodge campaigned against the Brownback tax policy and unseated another Republican incumbent. “We got people who our message worked with,” Mr. Hodge said. “Those are usually people who are just struggling with life, making an hourly wage, living in a rental house. They don’t even follow politics very well.”

While Democrats picked up 13 seats in the Legislature, and several moderate Republicans beat conservatives in primaries, the practical effect of the state’s shift remains uncertain. Republicans held onto large majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, and conservatives kept the most influential leadership positions. Moderate Republicans and Democrats might pass some bills by voting as a bloc, though they may not be able to overcome a veto.

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Complicating matters, the Kansas Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of state funding for public schools. The Supreme Court justices, many of whom conservatives tried unsuccessfully to oust in last month’s election, could order hundreds of millions of dollars in additional education spending.

“The election happened, we moved to the center, and now the rubber meets the road,” said Patrick Miller, a University of Kansas political scientist. “Where do you find the money? What do you do about Brownback’s veto? And what do you do about the Supreme Court ruling?”

Here in Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey has vowed to never increase taxes during his tenure and to reduce income taxes to as close to zero as possible.

After years of budget cuts to vital programs including health, education and welfare, this means that there will be no new sources of revenue to begin to restore those years of budget cuts during the Great Recession. Because of the cumulative effect of GOP tax cuts over the past 20 plus years, even if Governor Ducey and the Legislature wanted to return the state to pre-recession funding for things such as education and health care, it would be nearly impossible. Arizona’s structural budget deficit is due to corporate welfare tax cuts – no new money for education.

In recent years, legislative Democrats and gubernatorial candidate Fred DuVal were reticent to challenge the Tea-Publican orthodoxy on taxes because of Tea-Publican one party control in Arizona. They shied away from taking a stand against the disproved and discredited faith based supply-side trickle down economics that is the false religion of Tea-Publicans. Democrats never offered voters a bright-line clear policy alternative.

This should not be a difficult choice. Legislative Democrats can frame their tax policies around being the “constitutional party” that is meeting its prescribed constitutional duties under the Arizona Constitution. This is in stark contrast to our lawless Tea-Publican legislature that has for years routinely violated the Arizona Constitution with impunity:

Article XI, Section 6: The university and all other state educational institutions shall be open to students of both sexes, and the instruction furnished shall be as nearly free as possible. The legislature shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be established and maintained in every school district for at least six months in each year, which school shall be open to all pupils between the ages of six and twenty-one years.

Article IX, Section 3: The legislature shall provide by law for an annual tax sufficient, with other sources of revenue, to defray the necessary ordinary expenses of the state for each fiscal year. And for the purpose of paying the state debt, if there be any, the legislature shall provide for levying an annual tax sufficient to pay the annual interest and the principal of such debt within twenty-five years from the final passage of the law creating the debt.

Arizona is in desperate need of tax reform, but this is not possible so long as the GOP’s weapon of mass destruction, Prop. 108 (1992), the “Two-Thirds For Taxes” Amendment, Arizona Constitution Article 9, Section 22, remains law. If you want tax reform to restore fiscal sanity to this state, the prerequisite is to repeal Prop. 108. This is something else that legislative Democrats have been reticent to take on in the past. It’s time for them to take a stand.

3 responses to “Kansas is a cautionary tale for Arizona

  1. John Huppenthal

    There has always been polling support for education for the last 20 years but intuitively, legislative voters, by and large, know that they can get more education for their money with massive school choice and frugality than spending.

    Added spending yields nothing and may well have perverse effects in the sense that it allows business as usual to continue.

    There is a lock on stupidity in the Arizona Republic, Tucson Weekly and Horizon which just regurgitate quality rankings which are false. Quality of Arizona education by traditional measures of reading and math and quality that can be picked up by parent’s perceptions, clearly ranks in the top 15 of the nation and may well be vying for first.

    Arizona has been down the path of frugality, lower taxes and massive school choice for 22 years. Kansas expected an immediate large dividend from reduced taxes – won’t happen although it appears that they are picking up perceptible gains.

  2. Senator John Kavanagh

    DuVal and some legislative Dems were more than “reticent” to challenge Republican no tax increase policies – they were fellow travelers in opposition to tax increases.

    Reticent! Give me a break.

  3. “Legislative Democrats can frame their tax policies around being the “constitutional party” that is meeting its prescribed constitutional duties under the Arizona Constitution.

    That is a good logical approach, but it is dull as watching paint dry. It also entails raising taxes. And it requires some explanation to the voters as to what that means and why it is good for them.

    Generally speaking, voters in Arizona seem to have chosen a different way. Of course, you said it would take some time, so maybe it will work in the long run. I am skeptical that voters will be convinced to raise taxes so easily, though.