For most of modern U.S. political history, Republicans in general have cast themselves as the party of fiscally responsible governance, adhering to a simple equation: low government spending plus tax cuts – the bigger, and broader, the better – equals all-but-guaranteed economic growth and full government coffers.
Look at states governed by Republicans, however, and it seems that the GOP might need a collective refresher course in economics, if not general math.
Five years after the economic recession wreaked havoc on their budgets, at least a dozen red states are awash in red ink, facing nine- and ten-figure deficits heading into the new fiscal year. That’s led GOP governors who won office by pledging fiscal responsibility, and bans on new taxes, to slash spending on everything from education to the environment while simultaneously increasing the financial burdens for the poor, along with the use of accounting sleight-of-hand to make the books look better.
Though it’s clearly a bipartisan issue – Maryland’s new Republican governor, Larry Hogan, inherited a $1.2 billion budget deficit from former governor (and future Democratic presidential candidate) Martin O’Malley – the rising red tide could wash away the so-called “Laffer Curve,” a key element of Republicans’ long-held fiscal orthodoxy that asserts tax cuts pay for themselves by stimulating economic growth.
In Kansas, two-term Republican Gov. Sam Brownback famously declared his state was a real-world “experiment” for the GOP’s fiscal ideas devised by Arthur Laffer, an influential conservative economist and one of Brownback’s key advisers. Despite Laffer’s presence on his policy team, Brownback’s state’s budget is nearly $1 billion in the red, forcing the governor to make deep cuts in education, social programs and some services.
The deficits could also sweep into the dustbin the presidential ambitions of at least three Republican governors who are struggling to balance the books in their home states even as they try to make names for themselves on the national political stage.