what's the matter with Kansas?

Governor Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, has been using his state as a laboratory to experiment with supply-side policies. Over the last several years, he has slashed taxes and services on the assumption that these policies will stimulate economic growth and, eventually, increase government revenue. So far, these policies have been a disaster: government revenue has declined, economic growth has been modest, Brownback has proposed a raise in the (Inherently regressive) sales tax and some Republican state legislators have joined Democrats in attempting to raise income taxes. Supply-side guru Arthur Laffer, who has been advising Brownback, nonetheless counsels patience. "Kansas," he insists, "is doing fine."

Though these developments have been playing out over several years, the latest news is still somewhat shocking. The state supreme court ruled that the school funding formula violated the Kansas constitution and ordered the legislature to address the situation. It passed a law that was designed to intimidate the court by removing its authority to appoint district judges and set budgets. This law itself is, of course, subject to judicial review. It is at least somewhat likely that the court might decide that it violates the state constitution.

Now comes the truly crazy part. Last week Brownback signed a law that would defund the entire state court system if the supreme court strikes down the earlier law. This would, of course, be a major victory for the executive branch in the ongoing Madisonian dance that underlies our constitutional system. Even if the earlier law is upheld by the court, the threat against that institution renders that judgment a bit suspect. Regardless of how this turns out, Brownback and his allies have done serious harm to the separation of powers in their state.