Slate has joined The New York Times and The Kansas City Star in highlighting what’s wrong with Kansas’ “insane right-wing experiment” of drastically cutting taxes, explaining that the Republican-led state “is about to destroy its roads.”
In 2012, Republican Kansas lawmakers led by Gov. Sam Brownback enacted a series of tax cuts -- described by the Star editorial board as “disastrous” and the Times editorial board as “ruinous” -- that deeply cut revenue streams without generating the strong economic growth conservatives promised would follow. Instead, the state has fallen into financial crisis leading to a painful credit downgrade, a massive budget shortfall, and a “negative” credit outlook for the future. Brownback’s tax cut policies were nonetheless endorsed by right-wing media personalities and created a model for other conservative politicians to follow.
On June 30, Slate reported that Brownback had announced the resignation of his state’s secretary of transportation, Mike King, marking the latest casualty of Kansas’ failed experiment with trickle-down economics. According to Slate, the reason King is leaving may be that the state has taken $2 billion from the Kansas Department of Transportation’s reserve funds to close gaps elsewhere in the budget. Former Kansas transit secretary Deb Miller cautioned that the “weakened revenue stream” would be “more subject to political whim.” From Slate (emphasis added):
Kansas has had trouble paying for much of anything since 2012, when conservative legislators decided to implement a bevy of right-wing economic policies—and lead their state into a fiscal crisis.
In order to keep funding its government despite dramatically decreased tax revenue, the legislature has flipped all their piggy banks. One of them is the Kansas Department of Transportation—or what sarcastic Kansans now call “the Bank of KDOT,” for the stupendous quantity of money that has been diverted from its coffers to the Kansas general fund and state agencies.
On Wednesday, Brownback announced that Mike King, the secretary of KDOT, would be resigning this month. King, who was appointed in 2012, has presided over a rather unusual period in Topeka finance.
Since 2011, according to the Kansas City Star, the state has diverted over $1 billion in “extraordinary” transfers from KDOT. If you include “routine” transfers, from 2011 through the 2017 budget year the total diversion from the Bank of KDOT will amount to more than $2 billion.
That’s more than KDOT’s annual expenditures. It’s as if the state, which has the fourth largest number of public road miles in the nation, had taken away a full year of road funding.
King’s predecessor, Deb Miller, told the Topeka Capital-Journal this week that King “started as KDOT secretary at a time when the agency had a well-defined and solidly financed statewide highway program. He exits an agency deeper in debt and with a weakened revenue stream more subject to political whim.”
Brownback’s legacy will be grander, but we could call this the Mike King doctrine: Plugging holes in the budget; leaving holes in the road.