Right’s ‘fake truth’ is targeting state leader

The no-tax, no-government crowd is at it, carping at Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Assaria, for his leadership in helping to save Kansas from bankruptcy. Johnson is chairman of the House Tax Committee; he was an architect of the Legislature’s recent financial resuscitation that rescued the state from drowning in red ink. This has upset the Laffer crowd, the supply-siders who believe that the best government is no government and the best tax is no tax, or one that the wealthy don’t have to pay.

Americans for Prosperity, a club fueled by the billionaire Koch brothers, has begun mailing glossy flyers that denounce Johnson for his heroic work. (No doubt they plan to attack him and his allies in the next primary election.)

“Steven Johnson’s Tax Hike Cost Us All,” it says on one side. On the other: “Steven Johnson made your paycheck smaller so government could Get Bigger.”

There’s more. In somewhat smaller large type, the flyer claims that Johnson voted “for a $1 billion tax hike while government spending continues to skyrocket.” The flyer further alleges that the tax hike is retroactive, “so next year your taxes will be higher than expected. Rep. Steven Johnson failed to control government spending. Now you’re paying for it with the largest tax hike in state history.”

What bilge. On at least two counts:

First, this flyer assumes that Kansans have no regard for taxes and no love of government. The flyer is the work of those who crafted Gov. Sam Brownback’s disastrous “Glide Path to Zero” income taxes for the rich and certain businesses. The discredited supply-side economist Arthur Laffer, the Kochs, Americans for Prosperity and other trickle-downers were at the governor’s side in 2012 when the bill to phase out income taxes became law. (We know how that’s worked out.)

Second, the flyer bleeds falsehoods, it plays fast and loose with truth, it twists fact into misdirection. It’s taken straight from the Koch playbook for Kansas Revenue Secretary Sam Williams, whose public service is derived mainly from supply-side talking points.

The legislation that Johnson helped write is less a tax increase than a tax recovery. It reinstates a three-bracket income tax and restarts a flow of reasonable funding for local schools. It is an historic accomplishment. It has pulled Kansas from a fall into fiscal ruin, the shuttering of its educational system and the starvation of social services.

Johnson and other legislators spared us, in the nick of time, from more of that ruinous Glide Path, the one that brought the state three credit downgrades, a billion dollar operating deficit, a state hospital that for years was losing a million dollars in federal aid every month because it was not funded adequately.

Abolishing the income tax led to frequent budget raids that emaciated the highway department, left local schools wretchedly underfinanced, starved colleges and universities, leaving students with horrid increases in tuition and fees; teachers, administrators and professors were fleeing the state for ones that welcomed educators, not demeaned them. Local hospitals and clinics were shuttered or left on life support for lack of funding.

The list went on, all of it due to those tax cuts. Not even the diversion of a massive sales tax increase (2015) could stem the red ink.

“Largest tax hike in state history”? It isn’t. It is old taxes restarted, with spending to revive our state, pre-Glide Path. And it seems large only because it follows the largest tax cuts in history, the ones that brought us to the abyss. We’re only returning to five years ago, and we have already lost a decade of competitive edge across the public and private sector.

Steve Johnson worked carefully, patiently to help this state leave that Glide Path to Ruin by leading legislators who sought to bring sanity to state finance; these legislators represented constituents who wanted a state government that helped their communities to be better places, not starved ones. People have learned the hard way that it is one thing to prattle on about a place without taxes, without government — and quite another to live in one.

That glossy mailer is wrong. Steve Johnson is no villain. He is a hero who helped save the government from financial collapse, our communities from further fallout. He helped restore a sense of promise for ourselves and for the next generations. Johnson and his allies deserve our thanks. Those flyers deserve the bottom of the nearest trash can.

This editorial appeared in the Salina Journal, in Sept. 17.

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