- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 1999

Anyone who believes that the great American tax revolt is in a state of remission hasn’t been to Nashville, Tenn., lately.
For months Tennessee has been embroiled in a battle over a plan by Republican Gov. Don Sundquist to introduce a state income tax. Mr. Sundquist has pulled a classic George Bush-style “read my lips” betrayal. He pledged “never” to support an income tax, then after getting elected, the day after “never” arrived. The governor’s income tax scheme made it through the State Senate Finance Committee and seemed headed for final approval. But the voters intervened. At 9:00 a.m. on Nov. 15, the day before the crucial legislative vote on the measure, thousands of Tennesseeans slammed their palms onto their car horns in response to a talk-radio-sponsored “Honk If You Hate the Income Tax” rally.
For 15 minutes, irate taxpayers enveloped the entire state capital in a steady and deafening blare of car horns. Commerce and traffic came to a standstill. It was louder than a Bruce Springstein concert, observed one participant. Another observer, University of Tennessee professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds, described the scene by noting: “The Capitol found itself, almost literally, under siege.” Fortunately, all the noise and racket got through to the State Capitol. After a few hours the intimidated legislators adjourned without the new tax, handing Mr. Sundquist an embarrassing defeat.
Just a few days earlier on the other side of the country, 58 percent of Washington state voters approved one of the most stringent anti-tax ballot measures (I-65) in the nation. This victory was in the face of almost uniform and well-funded establishment opposition among both parties, organized labor and the cowardly business community.
In the case of Tennessee and Washington, voters were rebelling against the imposition of new taxes. But in 20 other state capitals, the pendulum continues to swing in the tax-cutting direction. According to a recent report by the National Association of State Budget Officers, “Fiscal year 2000 represents the sixth consecutive year that states reduced taxes and fees, totaling $25.9 billion over the six-year period.”
The popularity of the Republican governors suggests that tax cutting is not just good economics, but good politics too. In 1998, Govs. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, Frank Keating of Oklahoma, George Pataki of New York, John Rowland of Connecticut, and Frank Johnson of New Mexico all won re-election in traditionally Democratic states riding the anti-tax, pro-growth message.
Jesse Ventura of Minnesota, despite some of his oddball and even offensive statements to the media about women and religion, commands the kind of 70 percent-plus approval ratings that would make most congressional Republicans drool with envy. Mr. Ventura’s most famous pledge in his election a year ago was to return surplus tax dollars to the people from whose wallets the money came in the first place. This year many Minnesota families received $200 to $400 tax rebate checks from the Minnesota IRS. They are happy campers.
Disregard those feel-good answers Americans give pestering pollsters. People like getting their money back.
Yet in D.C. the perceived wisdom these days is that fat and happy Americans have lost their enthusiasm for tax reduction. Rep. Richard Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, announced not long ago that he would “gladly vote for new taxes,” if the extra money were for education. Bill Bradley says Americans might be willing to may more taxes for his universal health care contraption. Political commentator David Broder recently wrote that the anti-tax message has lost its pizazz among mainstream voters. The lack of public enthusiasm for the congressional Republican tax cut of this past summer is cited as public evidence #1.
Now it certainly is true that as this mighty economic expansion rolls forward and workers’ paychecks and pension funds are fattened, the nuisance of high taxes isn’t quite so irritating. But to conclude from this that people have a renewed appetite for tax-and-spend economics would be wrongheaded.
Pollster Scott Rasmussen of Rasmussen Research in North Carolina has been exploring the public’s sentiments about taxes. Americans, he finds, simply don’t believe politicians anymore when they talk about tax cuts. One striking finding from a Rasmussen poll released last month is that “70 percent of Americans think that taxes and government spending are too high, but an equal 70 percent expect for them to get higher.”
Bob Dole’s tax plan fizzled in 1996 because very few Americans believed him when he recited anti-tax rhetoric despite a 20-year record in Washington suggesting just the opposite.
What all of this suggests is that Americans have been burned too often by sweet-talking politicians. Conservatives are still paying the price for the “read my lips” betrayals of a decade ago. The way for politicians to regain voter trust on this issue is to stop talking about tax cuts and to actually enact them.
Which brings us to George W. Bush. The governor is the latest presidential candidate to jump aboard the tax cutting bandwagon. Mr. Bush actually scores points by noting to his presidential rivals that “I am the only one who has actually cut taxes.” He’s done it twice as governor of Texas. How ironic it would be if he were the one who ultimately atones for the sins of the father.

Stephen Moore is director of fiscal policy studies at the Cato Institute.

Tax Cuts: The Governors Lead the Way

Arizona: Gov. Jane Dee Hull Cut in the corporate income tax rate
Arkansas: Gov. Mike Huckabee Cut in the state capital gains tax
Colorado: Gov. Bill Owens $1 billion personal income tax cut over 5 years
Delaware: Gov. Tom Carper Income tax cut reduces top rate from 6.4% to 5.95%
Florida: Gov. Jeb Bush $265 million cut in the intangibles tax;11% reduction in the millage rate for school taxes
Idaho: Gov. Dirk Kempthorne Eliminated marriage penalty
Massachusetts: Gov. Paul Celucci Sponsored a November 2000 ballot initiative to reduce income taxes to 5%
Michigan: Gov. John Engler Across-the-board tax cuts rates fall to 3.9% from 4.4% over five years
Minnesota: Gov. Jesse Ventura $1.4 billion sales tax rebate, and an across-the-board income tax rate cut (lowering top rate to 8%)
New Jersey: Gov. Christie Todd Whitman $1 billion property tax rebate
New York: Gov. George Pataki elimination of the commuter tax, and continues phase-in of income tax cuts
Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Ridge $400 million in cuts to the capital stock and franchise tax, corporateincome tax, and gross receipts tax on natural gas sales
Texas: Gov. George Bush $1.35 billion reduction in local school property taxes
Virginia: Gov. Jim Gilmore food sales tax cut (2% over two years)
Wisconsin: Gov. Tommy Thompson $400 million in income tax and property tax cuts

Source: Cato Institute

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