The God-O-Rama that the Republican presidential campaign has become has eclipsed the GOP’s signature issue: taxes. Assuming life still matters here on Earth, not just in the hereafter, it might help to evaluate the top GOP candidates and their executive tax records.
— “Thanks to a final term grade of F, Huckabee earns an overall grade of D for his entire (Arkansas) governorship,” states the Cato Institute’s 2006 Report Card on America’s Governors. Mike Huckabee’s early tenure featured a $70 million tax cut and a capital-gains tax reduction. But Huckabee repeatedly raised taxes to fuel a 65.3 percent state spending spree between 1996 and 2004, triple the inflation rate, the Club for Growth calculates.
“There’s a lot of support for a tax at the wholesale level for tobacco. And that’s fine with me,” Huckabee reassured state legislators in 2003. “Others have suggested a surcharge on the income tax. That’s acceptable. I’m fine with that. Others had suggested perhaps a sales tax. That’s fine.”
Thanks to Huckabee’s hikes on sales, gasoline, cigarette and other levies, Arkansas’ average tax burden expanded 47 percent on his watch. Thus, one wonders how hard a President Huckabee would push his proposal to replace today’s income tax with the “FAIR” federal sales tax.
— “I’m not trying to hide from the fact. We raised fees. We raised fees $240 million,” former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney admitted on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Dec. 16. In fact, Romney raised fees even higher.
“Of the 30 states to raise fees this year, only nine are bringing in $100 million or more from those fee hikes,” the Boston Globe’s Rick Klein wrote July 24, 2003. “Massachusetts reported $501.5 million in fee hikes.” Romney raised fees on IDs for blind people, deed registrations, driving permits, marriage licenses and more.
Romney also sought revenue by closing $283 million in “tax loopholes.” Put another way, he slipped nooses around previously untaxed activities. This included retroactive new taxes on incomes, sales revenue, severance pay and nonqualified pensions for individuals who work or trade in Massachusetts but live elsewhere, such as New Hampshire. In their first year alone, these new taxes cost out-of-state residents some $36 million.
Romney did arrange a two-day, tax-free shopping holiday, property-tax relief for seniors and accelerated a $275 million capital-gains tax rebate.
Romney also tried to cut the state income tax from 5.3 percent to 5 percent, but that effort foundered. His health-insurance mandate, however, has had a lasting effect. As a Massachusetts state Web page warns: “If you do not have health insurance, you will face a stiff tax penalty.” Next year’s fine will be $219 for individuals and $295 per uninsured worker at companies with at least 11 employees. Interestingly, Romney did not increase the co-pay for subsidized abortions, still just $50.
Under Romney, the Tax Foundation’s ranking of Massachusetts’ business friendliness slid from 26th to 37th in America. Meanwhile, Massachusetts’ tax burden swelled 10.8 percent, congruent with Romney’s “C” from Cato.
— “You are the most successful tax cutter in modern New York history and, on balance, the most successful tax cutter in the Republican field today,” Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist wrote former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani Dec. 3.
Giuliani reduced taxes $9.8 billion, lowering Gotham’s tax burden 17 percent. He curbed taxes 23 times, slashing levies on wages, business income, hotel rooms and more. Proving that tax cuts are pro-family, a mom and dad making $50,000 saw their taxes fall 23.7 percent, freeing funds to nurture their two children. Giuliani also curbed the marriage penalty for filing couples. Asked if he planned to hike taxes after 9/11, Giuliani slammed this as “a dumb, stupid, idiotic and moronic thing to do.”
Giuliani wants to make President Bush’s tax cuts permanent, “give the death tax the death penalty” and cut the corporate tax from 35 percent to 25 percent. Only Japan’s corporate tax is higher. This would dramatically increase America’s global competitiveness.
As voters learn that Huckabee — for all his poise and piety — rarely met a tax he didn’t like, and Romney rarely met a fee he didn’t hike, Republicans eager for the GOP to revitalize its limited-government, low-tax roots may elevate Giuliani to supply-sider in chief.
(New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. E-mail him at deroy.murdock(at)gmail.com.)