During this past election cycle, taxpayers gained significant ground as tax hikes were defeated in referenda and more legislators committed themselves to refrain from imposing new taxes.
After the 2002 election, 1,171 state legislators had signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, developed in 1986 by Americans for Tax Reform. The pledge is a commitment to “oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.” As of December 6, 2004, taxpayers’ interests in the next year were to be represented by 1,245 state Pledge signers, a net increase of more than 6 percent.
Significant Gains Made
The increase in pledge signings indicates state legislators are paying close attention to what their constituents want from them: firm commitments, accountability, and no new taxes. A closer look at the 2004 state elections, where the picture initially looked slightly more mixed, shows taxpayers overall can expect a continuation of the previous positive trend.
At the federal level, about 60 million taxpayers (the most votes ever for a candidate for president) gave President George W. Bush a clear mandate for his tax-cutting policies, and Congress will be significantly more taxpayer-friendly. A total of 221 U.S. Representatives and 46 U.S. Senators–including 93.5 percent of all Republicans in Congress–have now signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Taxpayer-friendly candidates gained significant ground.
The biggest congressional victory for taxpayers was the unseating of longtime U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD), who had been Senate Minority Leader. Here, the race boiled down to the issue of taxation.
Daschle’s voting record looked dismal from a taxpayer’s perspective. In 2000, Daschle voted against eliminating the marriage penalty, against repealing the death tax, and against tax cuts in the budget resolution. His opponent, former South Dakota Congressman John Thune (R), who represented the state’s only congressional district, voted for tax cuts on all these issues.
Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council in Washington, DC, said, “Continuity in political leadership, both in the White House and on Capitol Hill, means our small business and entrepreneurial sector can expect more positive gains on the tax relief and reform front. With respect to future cash flow planning and business investment, small firms now have certainty that tax relief measures signed by President Bush–lower marginal tax rates, increased business expensing, and capital gains [tax rate] reduction, for example–will not be rolled back. In fact, making these tax relief items permanent, including death tax repeal, now has a much greater shot at passage.”
At the state level, pro-taxpayer candidates defeated tax hikers at the ballot box in both primary and general elections in several states.
In South Carolina, incumbent pledge signers Henry Brown (R-1) won with 88 percent, Joe Wilson (R-2) won with 65 percent, and Gresham Barrett (R-3) ran unopposed. In the only House race in South Carolina without an incumbent, signer Bob Inglis (R) won Jim DeMint’s seat with 70 percent of the vote.
Perhaps the biggest victory for taxpayers in South Carolina came in the Senate race, where former Congressman Jim DeMint (R) defeated the state’s powerful education superintendent, Inez Tenenbaum (D). Tax reform was arguably the biggest issue in the race, and DeMint won by a convincing 54-44 vote.
Kansas Pro-Taxpayer Success
In Kansas, several steadfast pro-taxpayer legislators who had helped defeat an increase in income, sales, and property taxes in 2004 won reelection. Not only did tax-hikers and like-minded new candidates suffer defeat in the primaries, but the trend continued in the general election, where the following races stood out:
- In Senate District 26, incumbent Sen. Phillip Journey (R), a Pledge signer, was challenged by Rep. Daniel Thimesch (D), who had broken the Pledge by voting for income, sales, and property tax increases this year. Journey defeated Thimesch 58 to 42 percent.
- In House District 13, Pledge-signer Forrest Knox (R) defeated his primary election opponent, State Rep. Mary Compton (R), a Pledge signer who had broken her promise by voting for several tax increases over the past few years. She lost the primary election to Knox and challenged him again in the general election, only to lose again and decisively: 68 to 32 percent.
- Former State Rep. Peggy Palmer (R), a Pledge signer with a record of opposing tax increases, had defeated her primary election opponent, State Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dave Corbin (R), who had backed several tax hikes. Palmer then defeated her general election opponent, Belinda Aldrich-Farrar (D), by a 70 to 30 percent vote.
- State Sen. Kay O’Connor (R), a Pledge signer, defeated pro-tax State Rep. Rob Boyer (R) in the primary election and went on to defeat challenger Mark Boatright (D) in the general election.
- Former State Rep. Mary Pilcher Cook (R), who defeated Rep. Cindy Neighbor (R), a co-sponsor of failed tax increases, in the primary election, was unchallenged in the general election.
- Shari Weber (R) fended off a challenge by a write-in candidate in the general election. In the primary election she defeated Bill Kassebaum (R), another sponsor of the failed tax increase package.
“Many tax-and-spend legislators from both political parties ran into trouble during the 2004 Kansas elections,” said Karl Peterjohn, executive director of the Kansas Taxpayers Network. “This included prominent names like State Rep. Bill Kassebaum and Senate Tax Committee Chairman Dave Corbin. The next Kansas legislature will be more fiscally conservative and include fewer tax hike advocates.”
California Taxpayers Smiling
In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who ran on a no-new-taxes-platform, kept his promise to pass a budget free of tax increases.
A number of new candidates aligned themselves with the governor’s message and signed the Pledge, and voters embraced the no-new-taxes position in the election, giving six new Pledge signers a mandate: George Runner (R) in the State Senate, and Mike Villines (R), Sam Blakeslee (R), Audra Strickland (R), Van Tran (R), and Chuck DeVore (R) in the Assembly. In addition, Pledge-signers and Assemblymen Bob Dutton (R) and John Campbell (R) moved from the Assembly to the State Senate.
The 35 California Pledge signers will be important allies for the governor, who has reiterated his commitment not to raise taxes even while still facing big budgetary strains.
Tennessee Taxpayer Allies Win
In Tennessee, low-tax candidates achieved similar gains. In State Senate District 16, fiscal conservative Jim Tracey (R) successfully challenged incumbent Sen. Larry Trail (D), a trial lawyer and big-labor supporter who had voted for an increase in the sales tax.
Similarly, State Rep. Diane Black (R) ousted State Sen. JoAnn Graves (D), the Senate’s Speaker Pro Tem. Graves had voted for an increase in the state’s sales tax. Additionally, several Republican legislators who had supported creation of a state income tax chose to retire rather than seek re-election. All have been replaced by determined anti-taxers.
Steve Gill, a radio talk show host and prominent figure in the fight against instituting an income tax in the state, wrote in his weekly column on www.gillreport.com, “Although the income tax itself was not on the ballot this year, Tennessee voters made it clear they are fed up with high taxes. Wheel tax referendums across the state gave voters a chance to speak directly on the issue of higher taxes. In virtually every instance we said ‘NO’ in resounding terms.”
Georgia Anti-Taxers Carry Day
In 2003, shortly after having been elected the first Republican governor of Georgia since Reconstruction, Governor Sonny Perdue proposed a program of tax increases. At least two of those who supported the governor in that effort saw their careers end in the November elections.
In the 14th House District, newcomer and Pledge-signer Barry Loudermilk (R) defeated incumbent State Rep. Buddy Childers (D), who had signed the Pledge but then broke it by voting for a $180 million tax increase in 2003.
Pledge-breaking State Sen. Joey Brush (R), who also had voted for the $180 million hike, was defeated in the primary election by Pledge-signer Jim Whitehead (R). Several other Pledge breakers who voted for the increase in 2003 decided not to run for re-election. State Sen. Mike D. Crotts (R), who supported higher taxes, failed to win the Republican nomination for Congress in the 8th District.
A total of 62 Pledge signers will be representing taxpayers’ interests in the upcoming legislative session in Georgia.
“With the Republicans taking control of the Georgia House of Representatives for the first time in over 130 years, a Republican-controlled [State] Senate, and a Republican governor, we have an unprecedented opportunity to advance a conservative agenda,” said Loudermilk. “I plan on focusing my efforts to protect the rights of the individual and to reduce the size of government and its ever-extending reach into the lives and pocketbooks of our citizens.”
Tax-Fighting Governors Win
In Indiana, Missouri, and Washington, occupancy of the governor’s mansion shifted to the Republican Party. Mitch Daniels (R) of Indiana, Matt Blunt (R) of Missouri, and Dino Rossi (R) of Washington (who, while still in a dead heat with Democratic opponent Christine Gregoire, is expected to win the recount) all ran on a lower-taxes, lower-spending, pro-growth platform, without signing the Pledge.
Likewise, Utahns elected John Huntsman (R), who ran on a similar platform in a campaign to succeed Gov. Olene Walker (R).
Utah, Washington Reject Hikes
Utah voters defeated Initiative 1, which would have raised the state sales tax by $195 million over 13 years and increased state debt by $150 million. Washington voters resoundingly rejected Initiative 884, which would have made the state’s sales tax the highest in the nation.
Big New Hampshire Loss
However, taxpayers suffered a significant loss in New Hampshire, where Governor Craig Benson (R), a Pledge signer, was defeated by challenger John Lynch (D). Lynch has refused to sign the Pledge and has already indicated he may raise taxes.
Although Republicans generally tend to be more fiscally conservative, some losses for the Republican Party did not necessarily mean a big loss for taxpayers, as in Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, and Vermont.
A closer look at the Minnesota election, for example, reveals that those who stayed true to their opposition to higher taxes won. The Taxpayers League of Minnesota points to the following races:
- State Rep. Doug Fuller (R) lost his seat to Frank Moe (D). Fuller had verbally rescinded his commitment to taxpayers, while Moe signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
- State Rep. Doug Lindgren (R), in House District 2A, lost to his challenger, Brita Sailer (D). While Bush won the district by 52 percent, Lindgren–who failed to sign the Pledge–garnered 49 percent of the vote.
Essentially, both Fuller and Lindgren rejected Governor Tim Pawlenty’s (R) message of lower taxes and tried to stand on their own as “moderates” and lost.
According to the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, the clearest case was the race between Rebecca Otto (D) and Matt Dean (R) in House District 52B. Despite the heavy campaigning of former Governor Arne Carlson and Finance Commissioner John Gunyou–both moderate Republicans who attacked Dean as too conservative–Dean won handily as a Pawlenty conservative.
“The Republicans who won competitive races–Matt Dean, Mike Charron, Karen Klinzing, Phil Krinkie, Paul Gazelka, Judy Soderstrom, etc.–ran as strong, fiscally conservative Republicans aligned with Governor Pawlenty,” said David Strom, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. “Running as a fiscal conservative was a winning message, while running away from the Pawlenty message of fiscal responsibility more often than not led to defeat.”
Other States Less Promising
In other states, where the situation may look less promising from a macro-perspective, taxpayer advocates saw some encouraging trends at the local level.
According to Dowd Muska of the Yankee Institute in Connecticut, where pro-tax Democrats won a veto-proof majority in the Senate and approached a veto-proof majority in the House, “Taxpayers face good news at the local level. There are now 49 local taxpayer groups fighting to keep Connecticut municipalities’ property taxes, which are some of the highest in the nation, from rising even higher. And in 2004, for the first time ever, more than half of the tax-hiking town budgets that went to referendum were defeated.”
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said, “Taxpayers are more critical these days. They constitute an informed electorate, a critical mass who want to see a clear message. Where the tax message is watered down and party lines become blurry as a candidate tries to get comfortable in the ‘middle,’ taxpayers tend to favor the other party’s candidate, as we have seen in the case of Minnesota.”
He added, “In the long run, these election results will serve as a reminder for fiscal conservatives to not abandon the route of fiscal sanity, and to stay on message with regard to ‘no new taxes.'”
Sandra Fabry ([email protected]) is an associate with Americans for Tax Reform.