Elected Officials Nationwide Pledge to Oppose Tax Increases
According to Grover Norquist, president of the Washington, DC-based Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), 216 U.S. Representatives, 42 U.S. Senators, and more than 1,260 state legislators have taken ATR's "no-new-taxes" pledge.
"Faced with a critical mass of wary taxpayers who seek to distinguish friend from foe in the political jungle, many politicians who side with taxpayers have sought to make clear their commitment to taxpayers' interests by signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge," said Norquist.
Since 1986, the pledge--a written commitment to oppose and vote against any and all tax increases--has served as a valuable tool to convey to constituents where their elected leaders stand on tax issues.
President George W. Bush also has signed the pledge, as have nine governors, four lieutenant governors, two attorneys general, four secretaries of state, and four state treasurers.
Why Do They Sign?
Lawmakers who sign the pledge "have committed themselves to the principles of limited government and dedicated themselves to taxpayers, rather than tax-and-spenders," said Norquist.
Pledge-signer Virginia Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax County) says the pledge helps to "reinforce in the public mind what I already stand for. Thus, you could say it has helped my branding."
"I signed the taxpayer protection pledge for two reasons," said California Assemblyman Ray Haynes (R-Riverside). "To announce to the world my intention to vote against all tax increases at all times; and (b) to grant to any who may wish a public promise to which I would be accountable."
The pledge "helps draw a 'bright line' distinction," explained Cuccinelli.
Florida Senator Mike Haridopolos (R-Melbourne) said he signed the pledge because "I firmly believe in the principle that less government is good government. The best way to stop the growth of government is to stop tax increases."
Maryland Senator Alex Mooney (R-Frederick and Washington Counties) agreed. "The most important reason I signed the pledge was because I firmly believe the people already pay enough in taxes. The problem with government is that it spends too much. Families are forced to have both parents working to pay the taxman, and therefore cannot spend as much time with their children."
Practical Matter As Well
Pledge-signers report it's more than a mere declaration of principle, but has practical value as well. "Once I signed the pledge and was elected," said Mooney, "it was much easier for me to just say no to the continual lobbying for more and higher taxes. I simply tell whoever is asking me to raise taxes that I signed a pledge and intend to keep my word."
The pledge has played a decisive role in tax fights across the country.
Haridopolos recalls the pledge reminded him to hold the line against eliminating a hotly debated tax exemption.
According to Cuccinelli, in Virginia, where legislators recently concluded a fierce tax battle, the pledge was "useful in pointing to the inappropriateness of certain elected officials' current positions vs. where they stood during their election." (See "Virginia Passes $1.6 Billion Tax Hike: Voters May Not Forget," page 5.)
And in California, Haynes recalls the importance of the pledge in holding the line against an attempt by then-governor Gray Davis to increase taxes. "Republicans held firm," Haynes noted, "and the tax pledge was a key part in keeping them committed and accountable to the promise of no new taxes on Californians."
Tax Increasers Pay Political Price
Although the U.S. economy may be recovering from the recent recession, voters remain leery of turning over their hard-earned cash to state policymakers.
In November 2002, Virginia voters resoundingly rejected a sales tax hike proposal.
Two months later, in January 2003, voters in Oregon defeated a tax increase package by a vote of 55 to 45 percent. They made their voices heard a second time, in February 2004, when they rejected a renewed attempt to raid their wallets by a vote of 60 percent to 40 percent.
In Alabama, Gov. Bob Riley (R) learned the hard way that there is no such thing as a sleeping electorate. On September 16, 2003, 68 percent of voters rejected his proposal for a $1.2 billion tax increase.
On September 16 in Seattle--a city not known for having a strong conservative anti-tax constituency--voters overwhelmingly rejected a tax on espresso drinks. Fully 77 percent of those who went to the polls rejected the tax proposal.
The readiness to reach deep into taxpayers' pockets exacted a heavy political toll in 2003 in California, where Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was recalled by his constituents after he had engaged in profligate spending and tripled the car tax. Davis was replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, who promised to restore fiscal sanity without raising taxes. On March 2, 66 percent of California voters rejected an attempt to loosen the state's tight supermajority requirement to raise taxes.
Take the Pledge
California Assemblyman Haynes has witnessed first-hand taxpayers' dislike for higher taxes, and he encourages his colleagues across the country to join him in signing the pledge.
"I would recommend to any of my colleagues that they take the pledge, if they are disposed to keep it. Time to deal with legislative issues is limited. Announcing your principles early makes decision making easier, and reassures your constituents of your position. Quite frankly, everyone is happier when they know where you stand on the issue of taxes, and the pledge clearly and decisively establishes that position," said Haynes.
ATR offers the pledge to all candidates seeking office at the state and federal levels and also to sitting incumbents.
Sandra Fabry is an associate for state government affairs with Americans for Tax Reform. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.