Democratic Presidential hopeful Howard Dean ended 2003 on the campaign trail, defending his record as governor of Vermont.
But according to Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), Dean’s record on taxes cannot be defended. During the nearly 12 years of his governorship, property taxes to fund schools almost doubled, while taxes to pay for municipal government increased by an average of 56 percent.
“This is particularly interesting given that the consumer price index–a pretty good indicator of inflation–increased by just 38 percent during that period,” commented Grover Norquist, president of the taxpayer advocacy group.
“It really begs the question: What was going on in Montpelier and across Vermont from 1990 through 2002? What does Dean’s record as governor indicate about his plans for the country?” asked Norquist.
According to Norquist, whose Washington, DC-based organization ranks governors on a scale of 1 (best) to 3 (worst) for their efforts to defend taxpayers against tax increases, Dean’s tenure as governor demonstrates a failure of leadership.
“He earned a rank of ‘3’ from ATR,” Norquist said. “He did not demonstrate convincingly that he cared one way or the other about taxpayers.
“It doesn’t help that Dean signed a law in 1997 that weakened the sovereignty of localities to decide whether to increase property taxes or not, and empowered the state with that authority,” Norquist continued. “Since 1998, property taxes have increased by leaps and bounds, more than they would have if the old laws were in place.”
15 Governors Get Lowest Ranking
Dean was among 15 governors, identified in the accompanying sidebar, to whom ATR has given a rank of “3.”
Alabama’s Bob Riley proposed a $1.2 billion tax increase package that was soundly defeated by referendum voters, 68 percent to 32 percent. Riley’s plan would have increased taxes by $293.21 per person, or $1,172.84 for a family of four.
“If we had a lower rank than ‘3,’ which we considered creating in Riley’s case, and in the case of Gray Davis, both of them would have earned it,” commented Norquist. “Thankfully, voters in Alabama have more sense than the governor they elected.”
Arkansas’ Mike Huckabee asked the legislature to approve income and cigarette tax increases the same day President George W. Bush was in Little Rock promoting his economic and jobs growth tax relief plan in spring 2003. Spending has increased 65.3 percent during Huckabee’s tenure as governor.
As reported in The Washington Times on December 2, Huckabee attacked Norquist for his opposition to tax increases. “‘Grover needs to run for governor somewhere, win and then try to govern,’ Mr. Huckabee added. ‘He makes it sound so easy.'”
Norquist replied, “‘He should make a phone call to Texas Governor Rick Perry, who closed a $10 billion deficit without tax hikes, or Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who closed a $4.2 billion deficit without tax hikes. It isn’t easy. It is called governing.'”
John Rowland of Connecticut, Ruth Ann Minner of Delaware, and Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho also actively promoted tax increases. “Rowland is particularly disappointing because he signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge promising to oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes,” said Norquist. “Breaking your pledge, a document that Rowland signed, ostensibly while sober, and then breaking that pledge is a real slap in the face for taxpayers.”
In Iowa, Tom Vilsack maintains that a proposal to increase cigarette taxes “is not a tax increase.”
“Look, if it smokes like a tax increase and clicks like a tax increase, it’s a tax increase,” commented Norquist. “Any increase in taxpayers’ burden that isn’t offset by other, simultaneous actions to reduce that burden is a tax increase.”
Missouri’s Bob Holden, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, and Mark Warner of Virginia also earned a rank of “3” from ATR for raising taxes.
“Some of these guys just won’t quit, like Mark Warner. He just released his so-called ‘Tax Reform’ plan that includes, among other efforts to increase taxes, an attempt to revive a regional sales tax,” said Norquist. “Voters didn’t split hairs last year–they told Mark Warner that they did not want a regional sales tax. And yet here he is again, singing the same tune.”
How to Move Up in Ranking
“Part of the problem with poorly ranked governors is that they just don’t learn by example,” noted Norquist. “Tax increases demonstrably reduce economic growth and prosperity. They cut job growth and investment in new businesses and technology. It’s not rocket science.
“Cut spending, provide tax relief, use the private sector to provide alternatives to traditional spending methods such as investment in charter schools, eliminate state jobs that haven’t been filled in years, review state property holdings and re-evaluate office space needs, combine agencies and commissions that perform the same services, refinance state debt and for the sake of sanity, stop micro-managing every detail at the state level,” he added.
“That’s what I call leadership, and those kinds of policies will earn a governor a rank of ‘1’ or–even better–a Gold Star award. A little something ATR provides good governors with to pin to their lapels at the National Governors Association meetings,” ended Norquist with a smile.
Emily Sedgwick Ansell is recently married (November 2003) and an analyst for Americans for Tax Reform (http://www.atr.org).