Kansas GOP: Poor Are Too Rich

Kansas Republicans, under the leadership of “compassionate conservative” Sam Brownback, are working hard to stick it to the poor:

A Kansas House tax committee passed a bill in which anyone making less than $25,000 a year — roughly half a million of the state’s 2.9 million residents — will pay an average of $72 more in taxes, while those making more than $250,000 — about 21,000 people — will see a $1,500 cut, according to Kansas Department of Revenue estimates cited by the Kansas City Star.

The hike would come from the elimination of tax credits typically benefiting the poor.

I can’t help but see this as a continuation of the conservative meme that its the poor who don’t pay their “fair share.” Last fall, as the Occupy movement gained steam, it became common for conservatives to complain about the 47 percent of Americans who “don’t pay taxes.” Presidential candidates like Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry complained about it in speeches and debate performances, while conservative activists (Redstate’s Erick Erickson comes to mind) touted it in response to the Occupy movement.

Of course, the claim was misleading to the extreme; all Americans pay something to the government—sales taxes, payroll taxes, and various state taxes—but only some make enough money to owe federal income taxes. Those that don’t, as Annie Lowrey explained for Slate, are either poor, or benefit from a variety of tax deductions:

About half of households within that 47 percent do not end up paying federal income tax because they qualify for enough breaks to cancel their tax obligations out. Of that group, 44 percent are claiming tax benefits for the elderly, like an exemption for Social Security payments. And 30.4 percent are claiming credits for “children and the working poor,” like the child-care tax credit. The remainder get breaks for investment income, spending on education, itemized deductions, and a mish-mash of other things. When combined, it’s all enough to cancel out their income tax requirements.

Because of facts like this, and the declining visibility of the Occupy movement, conservatives began to back off on the rhetoric of tax increases for low-income Americans and others who benefit from social services. That said, both policies have always been part of conservative proposals for reform—see Paul Ryan’s roadmap, for example—and in states like Kansas, Republicans are actively working to increase the burden on the least well-off.

One last thing: Kansas Republicans say that this proposal is to make the state more competitive. “Our goal is for our economy to look more like Texas, and a lot less like California,” said Brownback. If that’s the case, then the Kansas GOP should spend less time trying to raise taxes on poor people, and more time trying to encourage immigration. More than anything, Texas has been a beneficiary of the fact that people want to live there. As it stands, however, conservatives in Kansas would rather joke about shooting immigrants than work to bring them to the state.

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