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off the charts

Brownback’s Claims Wilt Under Scrutiny

In delivering the Republican Party’s weekly address on Saturday, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback made the rosy claim that states can cut taxes deeply without hurting their schools and other investments in the future, and he used his state as an example.  But the governor’s claim is too good to be true — and his own state proves it.

Governor Brownback claimed that he’s turned the state’s budget deficit into a surplus, even while passing the largest tax cut in Kansas history.  “To make that financial turnaround a reality,” the Governor claimed, “. . . we didn’t cut state funding to schools.  We didn’t cut state funding for our universities and colleges.”

In fact, state funding for general elementary and secondary education is lower, even in nominal terms, than when Brownback took office in 2011, and is down sharply — by 10 percent — after adjusting for enrollment growth and inflation.  Higher education funding is up slightly in nominal terms, but down 4 percent after adjusting for enrollment growth and inflation.

Further, Brownback’s claim ignores his decision to lock in education funding cuts enacted earlier in the recession, before he took office.  Since 2008, per-student K-12 education funding is down 14 percent after adjusting for inflation, and will be down 19 percent by 2015 if the Governor gets his way (see chart).  In addition, per-student higher education funding is already down 24.5 percent.


Funding for education in Kansas will likely continue to decline, thanks to the massive income tax cut that Governor Brownback signed last year.  That tax cut, which slashed taxes for the wealthy and profitable corporations while raising them for low-income seniors and families, drained $700 million from the resources available to fund education and other services.  The legislature’s research arm says that, starting in 2014 as a result of the tax cut, revenues will fall far short of what it would cost to maintain funding for schools and other state services at current levels ? levels that already reflect the aforementioned cuts in funding for K-12 schools and for higher education.

Despite proposing to raise other taxes to offset the impact of last year’s tax cut and help balance the budget, Governor Brownback proposes cutting per-student K-12 school funding by about another 5 percent by 2015, after adjusting for inflation.  He also has called for gradually eliminating income taxes altogether, without explaining how Kansas could afford to do so.

Citing the budgetary damage from the tax cuts, a state district court found in January that Kansas is unconstitutionally underfunding its elementary and secondary schools.

Contrary to his claims, Governor Brownback’s own experience shows that states can’t slash taxes without damaging funding for fundamental state services.  There’s no free lunch.