Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Still waiting for that supply-side magic ... still waiting....

Let's pay a return visit to the beautiful state of Kansas, the state that had been cited repeatedly by GOP intellectual leaders as a showground for their low-tax, high-growth ideology.

In 2012, under the leadership of Gov. Sam Brownback and right-wing economist Arthur Laffer, the Kansas Legislature cut income taxes by $3.7 billion over five years, with the cuts projected to "pay for themselves" by generating tens of thousands of new jobs that in turn would fill the state's coffers with new tax revenue.

“My faith is in the people of Kansas, not its government,” Brownback said in signing the tax cuts. “The best thing we can do for individuals in this state, and particularly for somebody that’s struggling, is to provide jobs and job opportunities. That’s what this does.”

In 2013 and 2014, when initial job growth proved to be slow to non-existent, Brownback, Laffer and their supporters counseled patience. The promised boom wouldn't come overnight; the supply-side theory had to be given time to work its magic.

Well, next month will be four years since Brownback signed the tax package into law. And as of March 2016, Kansas could brag that it had 1,398,800 jobs. The problem is that as of March 2015, it could also brag of having 1,398,800 jobs. Yup -- that's zero job growth in the last 12 months, a period in which the national economy added 2.8 million jobs.

If you look back two years, Kansas has added a grand total of 12,000 jobs since March 2014, compared to job growth of almost 5 million nationally. Since May 2012, when the tax cuts were signed, the state has seen 3 percent job growth, compared to 7.4 percent job growth nationally.

Meanwhile, state government has been forced to dramatically slash spending on higher education, K-12 education, transportation and other necessities. And the shortfalls haven't ceased:

"Last month, Brownback ordered $17 million in immediate reductions to universities and earlier this month delayed $93 million in contributions to pensions for school teachers and community college employees," the AP reports. "The state has also siphoned off more than $750 million from highway projects to other parts of the budget over the past two years."

A new revenue forecast, expected to be released today, could further darken an already dire situation. In short, thanks to Brownback and his fellow supply-side cultists, Kansas has been reduced to eating its seed corn, undermining the future prosperity of its people in order to survive the current GOP-mandated famine. (Programs to help the disadvantaged have also had to be gutted in order to finance the tax cuts, which were pocketed largely by business and upper-income Kansans.)

A very similar narrative is playing out in Louisiana, where former Gov. Bobby Jindal also engineered significant cuts in state taxes that were supposed to generate a major economic boom and -- not coincidentally -- elevate Jindal into the first tier of Republican presidential candidates.

None of that happened. Jobs are leaking from Louisiana, the state budget is in a terrible mess, with major cuts to education and "temporary" tax increases already enacted and the state still facing hundreds of millions of dollars in budget shortfalls. As you also may have noticed, Jindal is nowhere to be found in national politics, and he has become a despised figure even back home in Louisiana.

He left office with a 20 percent approval rating, with 55 percent of his fellow Republicans disapproving of his performance, and he was replaced by a Democrat now trying to clean up his mess.

The most amazing part of such stories is the impact that they have had on standard Republican ideology, which is no impact whatsoever. The same was true of the failure of economic policy implemented by the George W. Bush administration, which enacted a series of major tax cuts early in its term with the expectation that a boom would follow.

As you may recall, it did not.

Even if you cherry-pick the time frame, judging the Bush plan from his inauguration to peak, pre-recession employment in January 2008, the U.S. economy added fewer than six million jobs under the Bush plan, which is very slow growth. And by the time he left office, fewer Americans were working private-sector jobs than when he became president.  So under no conceivable measurement could his supply-side approach be judged a success. (For comparison's sake, the economy has added 11 million jobs under President Obama.)

Yet the faith remains undisturbed; the ideology must remain fixed regardless of what experience tells you. Even now, Brownback is stubbornly refusing to consider undoing the income-tax cuts that have proved so ruinous to Kansas; even now, House Speaker Paul Ryan continues to champion supply-side tax cuts as the foundation of his "new" GOP approach to 21st century economic challenges.

The durability of that faith is reminiscent in a way of those cult members instructed to believe that the world is coming to an end. At the designated time they go to the mountaintop to await their glorious ascension into heaven, and when the world doesn't end, they turn around and trudge home. They don't wonder whether they were duped; they tell each other that their leaders just interpreted the signs wrong, that the next time will be the time they are proved correct.

It's never this time. Always next time.





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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.