- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

It was hard to find a single Democrat who spoke here last week that made any sense about the economy.
The economy is growing by little more than 2 percent. Few jobs are being created. Consumer spending is limp. The stock market is in near-paralysis over the uncertainty of war in Iraq. We are entering the fourth year of America's chronic economic malaise.
But the presidential hopefuls who appeared at the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting and their fellow Democrats at the National Governors Association conference had only one prescription to offer: repeal President Bush's tax cuts.
That appeared to be the core solution of every Democrat who spoke to these groups except one.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was a lonely Democratic voice of reason crying in the wilderness. He is not only urging that taxes be cut to spur economic growth and jobs, he is doing it in his own state.
He ran on tax cuts last year in a state that is trending Democratic, won by 60 percent, and 45 days after being sworn in, signed legislation to do just that.
His five-year, $360 million tax reduction plan would cut the top income tax rate from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent and gradually cuts the capital-gains rate in half.
Mr. Richardson is by no means embracing Mr. Bush's plan. But he is urging pleading might be a better word his party to stop bashing tax-cuts and quit playing class warfare politics.
"I believe the Democratic Party has to be open to tax cuts and economic incentives," he told me as the governors were winding up their four-day conference.
He warns that if the Democrats do not stop waging class warfare on the rich, "we will lose" next year's elections.
Just about all of the governors are wrestling with mounting deficits of various sizes and several have already called for tax increases or said they may have to raise taxes. Mr. Richardson's state does not have a deficit but "not much of a surplus either," he says, thanks to revenues from its oil and gas industries.
The governor, who was U.N. ambassador in the Clinton administration, says tax cuts are necessary to get the economy growing more vigorously. "I want to create jobs and economic opportunity in my state," he said.
But this is not the sole reason he is cutting taxes in his state. "We did it to be competitive with other surrounding states. We did it to be competitive with Arizona and Colorado who have a personal income tax at 5 percent and we were at 8 percent."
And to this end, Mr. Richardson is running ads in business magazines and newspapers like the Wall Street Journal that tweaks the Democrats as the party of higher taxes and invites businesses to relocate in his state. The ads say in part: "A Democratic governor? Who cuts taxes? By 40 percent? Hey, we've been telling you it's different in New Mexico."
It certainly is. And Mr. Richardson is a different kind of Democrat, someone who thinks lower rates produce higher rates of economic growth and eventually higher tax revenues.
And unlike the class-warfare Democrats, Mr. Richardson isn't focusing his tax cuts on just middle- and lower-income people, but on wealthier income earners, too. Married couples filing joint returns who earn $100,000 and up will see their tax bill fall by $5,458.
Mr. Richardson was the only governor who addressed the DNC meeting, though he sounded positively defensive about his tax cuts. After all, this was an audience that had been applauding tax cut bashing for two days.
The day before he spoke, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told the DNC that "tax cuts do not create jobs." That will come as a surprise to Democrats who remember when President Kennedy cut tax rates and the economy took off in the 1960s, yielding a budget surplus by 1969.
The Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s not only got the economy growing, but unemployment by the end of the decade was nearly 5 percent, down from double-digit levels.
Mr. Richardson is a centrist, mainstream Democrat who worries that his party is lurching dangerously to the left; that its message is all negative and no optimism; and that words like opportunity, entrepreneur, investment and capitalism are sadly missing from his party's campaign lexicon as well as its agenda.
"Democrats have to stop this reflex opposition to tax cuts. We've got to be more pragmatic," he said last week.
The Democrats need to hear more from Bill Richardson in this debate.
Let's hope he comes to Washington more often, because his tax cut story deserves a wider audience.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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