Finance

Just Say No. Then Shut Up.

A three-quarters majority is required to raise taxes in Arkansas, but the legislature has done it twice in the past year. How did that happen?...
by | March 31, 2009
 

A three-quarters majority is required to raise taxes in Arkansas, but the legislature has done it twice in the past year. How did that happen? Democratic Governor Mike Beebe offers a succinct answer: "It helps not to have a lot of Republicans."

While he may have been joking, there's some truth to it. The GOP has stood for lower taxes for the past generation, but in many places, it's no longer just a platform plank. It's something akin to religious dogma. Arkansas is a conservative state, but it remains overwhelmingly Democratic. Republicans there are as ferocious against taxes as their counterparts elsewhere, but they don't have the numbers to do much about it.

Things weren't that simple this year in California, where a $42 billion deficit led to seemingly endless stalemate and an eventual capitol lockdown. The California constitution requires a two-thirds vote to pass a budget, and GOP legislators have more than the one-third they need in the Senate to bring proceedings to a halt. They spent months blocking a budget that contained tax increases along with spending cuts, even though it had the strong support of Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger called the six Republican legislators who ultimately supported the plan and broke the impasse "great heroes," but the rest of his party had other names for them. Dave Cogdill, one of the moderates, was dumped as GOP leader in the state Senate. Soon after, a banner appeared at the state GOP convention deriding "the six losers." Delegates unanimously approved a resolution to deny them party support during the next campaign.

Similar things have happened in other states where tax increases have gone through in recent years, such as Minnesota, Oregon and Virginia. Republicans who voted for the plans nearly all faced primary challenges the next time out. Relatively few lost, admits Grover Norquist, a prominent anti-tax crusader, but he still thinks scaring them is a good idea. "Not everyone who strays gets defeated," he says, "but your chances of defeating them go way up." It remains to be seen, though, whether chasing after apostates will prove a winning strategy for a party that desperately needs growth in its ranks.

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