Photo Credit: Jose A. Alvarado Jr.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s tax proposal isn’t all that “radical.” Just ask Kansas.


Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) suggestion in an interview with Anderson Cooper to raise the top marginal tax rate to 70 percent has reignited a long overdue debate about taxation.

But Kansas, a state not particularly known for radical politics, is already ahead of the curve — at least in terms of people’s perception of taxes.

The communications firm Topos studied public opinion about what’s known as “the Kansas Experiment,” former Governor Sam Brownback’s 2012 all-in bet on “trickle-down economics,” and came to complicated, but promising conclusions.

Lowering and even eliminating some taxes on corporations and the wealthy quickly backfired, forcing spending cuts to infrastructure, school budgets, worker pensions, and Medicaid. In the aftermath, Topos found that Kansans, like most Americans, may not like taxes, but they are now more able to recognize that they are necessary.

Why is that a big deal? Decades of propaganda peddled by conservatives and corporate leaders have convinced most Americans that taxes are too high, unfairly burdensome, and mostly wasted by politicians. Topos found that even some conservative Kansans now understand that cutting taxes on businesses does not lead inevitably to those businesses creating jobs.

In our era of “drain the swamp” rhetoric and rekindled dog-whistle racism, that’s at least a glimmer a hope in otherwise dark times.

The hope is that working people, the vast majority of Americans, began to see that we must rely on public — that is, democratically managed — solutions to our most pressing collective problems.

Government isn’t a good thing by definition — it’s a tool. Taxes can either be progressive or regressive. Social programs can help people in a tough economy or force them to work jobs that don’t pay enough. Infrastructure can help us all (like mass transit) or a few (like expensive toll lanes).

The thing is, as much as they deny it, conservative politicians agree — when it comes to certain things. They happily — even aggressively — fight for more funding for things like the military and police, e.g., “build the wall.” They cut taxes on the wealthy while increasing fines and fees that land harder on poor and working people, like for missing court dates, skipping school, and, even, being put in jail.

But when it comes to spending meant to spread prosperity, things like public education, mass transit, and social programs, they ask, rhetorically, “How are we going to pay for it?”

In Kansas, that question has become literal. And if the tide can be turned there, it can be turned almost anywhere.


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Jeremy Mohler is a writer and communications strategist for In the Public Interest, a nonprofit that studies public goods and services. He’d love to hear from you: jmohler@inthepublicinterest.org