Children paid for the failed Kansas tax cuts and they’ll pay for the GOP tax cuts, too

If Kansas was a lesson, we're in for some massive budget deficits.

(Credit: Getty Images)
(Credit: Getty Images)

Congressional Republicans unveiled a plan Thursday to cut taxes for large corporations and wealthy individuals, transferring $1.2 trillion in benefits to corporations and estates over the next 10 years. The scheme looks a lot like the disastrous Kansas tax experiment pushed through by Gov. Sam Brownback (R) in 2012. And, like the Kansas plan, it’ll likely be paid for on the backs of children.

As ThinkProgress previously reported, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will give corporations and wealthy business owners huge windfalls. But the tax incentives for children in low-income families remain mostly unchanged. The bill would increase the Child Tax Credit (CTC) by $600, but it is nonrefundable, which means, according to the Center for American Progress (CAP), that “lower-income families who owe little or no federal income tax do not get its full benefit.” (ThinkProgress is editorially independent of CAP.) 

All of this means that the plan will likely produce massive budget deficits. The Kansas plan was not much different. Indeed, Trump’s chief tax advisers were the architects of the Kansas tax cuts.

Based on the trickle-down economic theories of the 1970s and 80s, the Kansas tax cuts were sold as a sure-fire mechanism to jumpstart economic growth in the wake of the Great Recession. In practice, the Kansas tax cut experiment was a massive failure. By all accounts, Kansas lost so much revenue that schools reduced their operating schedules and public services lapsed across the state. Last June, the Republican-led state legislature overrode Gov. Brownback’s veto, raising taxes on income and repealing a loophole that allowed many individuals to avoid paying state taxes altogether.

But some real and lasting damage has already been done. The Kansas experiment resulted in budget shortfalls so big that the governor and lawmakers raided state budget items far and wide, including programs that benefit young children and families.

Under Brownback, home visiting and preschool programs became means-tested, rather than supporting all families regardless of income. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) prevention and education programs — which have been proven to reduce infant deaths — were cut by 14 percent. Public schools were underfunded by hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

“We have vulnerable infants and toddlers in Kansas who are now completely disconnected from services they need to ensure the best start in life,” Annie McKay, the president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, told ThinkProgress. “Now we’re rebuilding, but we will never get another shot at the critical first years with the cohort that was forced to pay for failed tax policy.”

Nearly 20 years ago, Kansas received funds from a legal settlement involving big tobacco companies. Kansas legislators chose to invest these resources — averaging $60 million per year — in the Children’s Initiatives Fund (CIF) to support early childhood education in the state. The goal was to ensure that all Kansas children had the opportunity to succeed and to boost the state’s economy by reaping the economic benefits associated with early childhood interventions. The CIF supports programs like Early Head Start, home visiting, early literacy programs, and preschool. By 2015, approximately 200,000 young Kansans received early childhood programming supporting by the CIF.

But once Kansas faced a budget crisis brought on by eliminating business taxes and cutting taxes across the board, the CIF fell prey to Gov. Brownback’s experiment. Between July 2015 and June 2016, the state raided the CIF three times, resulting in a $13 million cut to children’s programs. By the end of the 2016 fiscal year, only $34.5 million of the original $60 million allocated to support early childhood programs was spent on young children. Gov. Brownback ultimately proposed using the entire CIF to backfill budget shortfalls, but the legislature stopped him from completely eliminating the fund.

Kansas eventually saw its bond rating downgraded twice, its funding for higher education cut, and experienced slower economic growth than the rest of the country.

The danger of repeating the Kansas experiment with the GOP plan is possible. While the plan proposed by Congressional Republicans is being promoted as a huge tax cut for the middle class, tax experts have found that the only individuals who would benefit from the cuts are wealthy Americans. If the bill is enacted, it won’t bode well for children and working families.

Some Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), acknowledged this reality. In a joint statement with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) on Thursday, Rubio said the bill doesn’t do enough to help working families.

“The best way to provide real relief to working families is through a straightforward, significant, and permanent expansion of the child tax credit,” said Rubio and Lee.


Katie Hamm is the vice president of Early Childhood Policy at the Center for American Progress.

Rasheed Malik is a policy analyst for Early Childhood Policy at the Center for American Progress.

ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed in the Center for American Progress.