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Instead of Cutting Taxes, Listen to Kansas

A failed experiment left the state with underfunded schools, gaps in public services—and lessons for the rest of us

"Brownback said his tax plan would be 'like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy,'" Owliaei writes. "But instead, it devastated the state's economy." (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/cc)

Republicans scrambled on Wednesday to put the final touches on the catastrophic tax proposal they rolled out this week. But the progressive lawmakers and activists gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol were already clear on their message: not one penny in tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations.

At the Rally to Resist the Republican Tax Scam, lawmakers, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, detailed the damage they expected to see from the Trump tax plan. But one speaker already had personal experience with the “trickle down” policy touted by Republicans. As she spoke to the crowd, Kansas resident Sarah LaFrenz was clear: there’s no cutting taxes without slashing public services.

LaFrenz knows this well because Kansas Governor Sam Brownback successfully sold her home state the lie that tax cuts lead to economic growth. Under the governor’s leadership, Kansas passed cuts so deep that they were called experimental.

Brownback said his tax plan would be “like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” He promised the cuts would help create jobs — similar to what the national GOP claims the Trump tax bill will do. But instead, it devastated the state’s economy. Now, only five years later, the state legislature is reversing the policy, widely considered a failure.

But Republicans refuse to learn from those mistakes. Instead, they hope to repeat them at the national level. LaFrenz won’t let that happen without warning Americans about what those tax cuts could mean.

“What happened in Kansas is an incredibly personal story for me, because every single person that I know from home was deeply affected by this,” LaFrenz said. “As a mother of three children, I have seen firsthand what this experiment has done to our people.”

Who continues to pay the price of this failed tax policy? The kids of Kansas. Take, for example, the treatment of youth in foster care. “The state of Kansas has literally lost children because we decided to trim spending in this reprehensible manner,” LaFrenz said, referencing the 70 kids missing from the state’s foster care system.

Members of the Kansas legislature were surprised last month when they learned that the Department for Children and Families cannot account for dozens of foster children that were supposed to be under state care. But the foster system, managed by private contractors, has faced high turnover from social workers hoping to leave the heavy caseloads and low pay behind.

The budget dysfunction also deeply affects Kansas schools. As LaFrenz pointed out, the Kansas Supreme Court has ruled multiple times that the state’s low education spending is unconstitutional. But the state’s tax system continues to burden the legislature as it considers how to adequately fund schools.

LaFrenz wants the lessons from Kansas to echo across the country. After her speech, she headed inside the halls of Congress to let lawmakers know that policies like the ones they’re floating have already had an enormous impact on her community. As she exited the rally, she left some parting words of advice.

“I am here today to implore you all to learn from Kansas. When they decide to starve our public services in order to give tax cuts to rich folks, our lives are endangered, we are harmed, and we sometimes lose people altogether.”

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Negin Owliaei

Negin Owliaei

Negin Owliaei is a co-editor and researcher at IPS's Before joining IPS, she worked as a journalist and digital producer at Al Jazeera Media Network, where she covered social movements and the internet for the award-winning program The Stream.

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