Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Budget Politics in Kansas

Long article by Chris Suellentrop in the Times about the budget debates in Kansas, where governor Sam Brownback's tax cuts have created an ongoing budgetary crisis:
The consensus estimate, as reported by The Lawrence Journal-World, was that fiscal 2015 would bring in $5.7 billion in tax revenues, the lowest number since 2010’s $5.2 billion, and $700 million less than the state collected in 2012, before the tax cuts were passed. Lawmakers and the governor would need to find about $400 million, it was announced on April 20, to close the deficit for the fiscal year that would begin on July 1.

Since the beginning of the legislative session, you could divide the conservative Republicans into three camps. The first was the Cutters, who thought that the state’s budget woes should be solved solely through reductions in spending; these were the hardest of the hard-liners, and their position did not get much consideration. The second was the Marchers, who were willing to raise sales taxes and other consumption taxes but not to raise income taxes. The third I call the Do-Overs, who were willing to raise some taxes but only if changes to the 2012 income tax cuts were included. The Do-Overs especially wanted to eliminate the zero-tax policy for business owners and farmers.

Each side brought numbers as evidence for the righteousness of its cause, but it was clear that they were motivated by something deeper — a reminder, for an outsider like me who now lives in a very different political climate, that math can never really resolve a debate rooted in history, culture and values. In Kansas, the Do-Overs, who had many legislative leaders in their ranks, wanted a system that valued fairness by taxing business owners and their employees equally. ‘‘I hope I can get 63 people to put their integrity and fairness ahead of their desire to return here,’’ Hutton told me. By contrast, the Marchers, led by Brownback and including Uncle Gene, wanted a tax system that valued risk and entrepreneurialism. . . .  At a moment when the divide between the Do-Overs and the Marchers seemed unbridgeable, a public-radio reporter asked Melissa Rooker, a moderate Republican, if conservatives were acting out of political expediency.

No, Rooker said, these are true believers. If they were merely political opportunists, the gulf in Kansas — and nationally — would not be so wide. ‘‘You could get around the political expediency,’’ Rooker said; you could come up with acceptable alternatives. ‘‘But you can’t change people’s beliefs.’’
The striking thing to me about Brownback's tax plan is its admitted unfairness. Brownback believes that farmers and business owners should pay lower taxes than people who draw salaries. This is sometimes justified in economic terms, that is, because business owners drive the economy, but those arguments are economic nonsense and I don't think they explain Brownback's beliefs anyway. He just likes businessmen better than teachers or policemen or engineers, and he wants an economy of gamblers, not salarymen. Against this Democrats advocate the philosophy best put by Bill Clinton, who said the system should work better for people who just "work hard and play by the rules." What's wrong with just holding a job anyway?


G. Verloren said...

The "Marchers" and their admitted unfairness are certainly a problem. But I've also always been troubled by the philosophy that "Equal = Fair" put on display by the "Do-Overs", because that's absolute nonsense.

Something being equal for everyone is not fair, because people aren't equal. If you earn several millions dollars yearly then a $10,000 traffic ticket is pocket change, while the same ticket would utterly ruin the lives of many millions of poor Americans who can barely pay their rent as it is.

Here's a great example - in at least some part of Florida, there is a fine for cutting down endangered mangrove trees. But it's a flat amount per tree. I've personally met local retirees who got hit with steep fines they could barely pay because they unwittingky cleared a tree or two from their own backyards that turned out to be mangroves. Meanwhile, major real estate developers will knowingly bulldoze entire groves and simply foot the bill as the cost of doing business, because they stand to make millions on their condominium projects and the like.

You'd think a fine for cutting down endangered mangroves would be a good thing, right? But in the end, the poor get harshly punished out of all proportion, the rich barely even get inconvenienced, and the mangroves get cut down en masse despite the fine ostensibly being there to protect them. It's a law that sounds like it should serve the interests of nature and the common man, but it harms both of them while it lets the rich make themselves richer.

Equality is not fairness. Proportionality is fairness.

G. Verloren said...

"Against this Democrats advocate the philosophy best put by Bill Clinton, who said the system should work better for people who just "work hard and play by the rules." What's wrong with just holding a job anyway?"

I imagine to many people, such thinking is dangerously close to "Communism" or "Socialism", and we simply can't have that, now can we? It's not really Capitalism unless you're living in a cutthroat culture of greed,and are playing fast and loose with the excitement of risk!

And even if your gamble doesn't pay off, that's okay! You can always foist your losses off onto the poor and powerless! Downsize your company! Outsource your labor! File for bankruptcy and get bailed out! Take home a massive paycheck and severance package, then get hired to a different company and do it all over again! That's the magic of Capitalism! If you have enough money, you always get more, and nothing you do has any consequences! (For you, at least!)