MuniLand

A conservative revolt on cutting taxes

By Cate Long
June 13, 2012

Voters and legislators in two very red states, Oklahoma and North Dakota, have recently defeated conservative initiatives to eliminate important taxes. Among some Republicans, there seems to be a realization of the need to pay taxes to fund essential services like schools and police and firemen, and of the need to find other sources of revenue once a given tax is repealed.

North Dakota has become the first state in the nation to propose and subsequently defeat a constitutional amendment banning property taxes. The proposal, Measure 2, would have given all local revenue decisions to the state legislature without detailing how the process would work. It was overwhelmingly rejected – by 77 percent of voters. This comment in the Bismark Tribune seems to capture the reasoning of voters on the issue:

I voted “no” on M2 because it was too vague and when I inquired supporters on how funding gets reacquired they kept stating that politicians will be forced to rethink the budget when, in reality, politicians always get funding by raising taxes. There is no such thing as a vacuum in government budgets and this argument relies on common sense in government actually taking effect. If Mandan elects a grocery personality with dubious managerial skills (I worked for the guy, he severely lacks leadership), then I have serious doubts that politicians will “rethink” anything.

My message to the Tea Party, whom I am affiliated with: go back to the drawing board and write a bill that is explicit in detail and is based on economics and not blind ideology with a Thomas Jefferson quote attached. Don’t gripe, just rewrite it, make it more specific, and don’t treat voters like scared sheep.

In Oklahoma, several weeks ago the legislature surprisingly defeated a proposal to eliminate the state income tax. Oklahoma is among the reddest of red states, and both chambers of the legislature are controlled by Republicans. The Tulsa World‘s associate editor, Janet Pearson, credits a progressive think tank, OK Policy, with the defeat of income tax repeal:

At the helm of OK Policy is one of Oklahoma’s top policy gurus, David Blatt. He believes OK Policy’s relentless, data-driven research – distributed daily through blog posts, emails, press releases, fact sheets and opinion pieces – helped poke holes in tax-cut claims.

“Tax-cut proponents were trying to sell the idea that doing away with the income tax would provide such enormous economic benefits that Oklahoma would not be forced to cut services or raise other taxes. We brought together some of the state’s leading economists to show that the claims about the economic benefits of tax cuts were either vastly overstated or simply false,” he noted. OK Policy’s work helped persuade many Oklahomans that “eliminating the state’s largest revenue source would necessarily lead to cuts in services or increases in other taxes.”

Blatt believes thoughtful Oklahomans “understood there’s no free lunch and that one way or another, tax cuts would have to be paid for.”

The examples of North Dakota and Oklahoma clearly show that conservatives will not support tax cuts at any cost. Americans do pay a lot of taxes, but they generally receive substantial services at the state and local level in return. Even voters in the reddest of red states are starting to recognize this.

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