December 24, 2008
A lump of coal in our stockings: States to levy a bevy of new taxesBy Ed Lasky
As a tumultuous year limps to an end, state governors are planning to deliver more hits to our already battered pocketbooks. More taxes are coming our way. You may not recognize them because, transparency and honesty be damned, many of them will come disguised as fees, assessments, and whatever euphemisms can be pulled from a government thesaurus to obscure the truth. Donald Lambro of the Washington Times noted:
Leading the way (down), as it often does, is New York. The Democratic Governor David Paterson wants to raise billions with new taxes and fees in the budget. These include a raft of petty-ante measures that may escape attention but that will collectively impose a stiff bill on New Yorkers. These include:
However, New York is not alone.
Another coastal state is gearing up to impose new taxes. Can you guess which one?
California -- a repeat offender.
California is particularly interesting because Democrats in the state legislature are trying to pull a fast one over its citizens. California's constitution requires a two-thirds majority of the legislature to raise taxes. Republicans, thankfully, hold enough seats to prevent new taxes. Governor Schwarzenegger also want to hold the line on new taxes and is demanding long term budget reforms and economic stimulus measures as a quid pro quo (a stance that does not please fellow Republicans who resist the new taxes).
How are Democrats to avoid this de facto veto on their plans? The magical powers of euphemism comes into play again.
They plan to call these new tax increases "fees" (watch for that word in the years ahead) which they claim are not covered by the constitutional requirement. Among the new "fees" planned:
The Los Angeles Times, a newspaper that apparently has never met a tax that it did not support, has called for the Gordian Knot to be cut. The paper's lead editorial yesterday just called for the complete abolition of the super-majority law. Oddly enough, the paper cites the history of the law without appreciating its message. The law was passed during the Depression when the state recognized that increased taxes were not the path towards prosperity during a time of economic distress as we are enduring now.
Democrats are eager to get their hands on taxpayer dollars to fund what is projected to be a $42 billion dollar deficit. But the Republican leader in the state senate, Dave Cogdill,is principled in his opposition:
Yes. High taxes and burdensome regulations are killing California.
As Investors Business Daily points out in an editorial:
The only business that seems to be doing well California is the one catering to people moving out of the state: U-Haul. Similar migrations to greener (the color of money) pastures are happening in New York and other high-tax states -- people are leaving Taxachusettes to go to New Hampshire, Maine and other relatively low tax states.
What Democrats seem to ignore (perhaps because so few of them have a business background) is the need to focus on outflow as well as inflow. Their efforts to tamp down spending are sporadic, weak, and also capable of being spun to try to lead people to believe that budget cuts are deep and painful when they actually are not.
Paterson may want to impose an anti-obesity tax on his citizens (the "fees" on soda) but has only a limited interest in slimming down his own budget. His own budget -- despite claims by Paterson supporters that it contained aggressive cuts that would leave "blood in the streets" -- actually grows the state budget.
Where are taxpayer dollars going?
As E.J. McMahon writes in a New York op-ed:
The Democrats are growing adept at using euphemism and Orwellian language to obscure the truth from the taxpayers. This belies their claim to be the party of transparency and honesty.
Since the powers-that-be seem to lack plans to tackle the budget crisis, critics have come to the fore.
Kenneth Adams wrote an op-ed in the New York Post calling for some sensible measures:
The Post takes aim at Democrats but will credit one Democrat with a sensible plan to trim the budget: Andrew Cuomo, the state's Attorney General who has called for property tax (which are enormous in New York) relief by merging a myriad of local government and "special districts" into more efficient (a relative term when it comes to government) jurisdictions.
Will these voices be heard by the powers-that-be who are pushing these taxes -- I mean "fees" -- onto taxpayers already battered by the stock market and job losses? Democrats need taxpayer money to feed their constituencies (public sector employees, special interest groups, teacher unions).
Democrats do seem sensitive to the political implications, hence, their efforts to disguise their actions and spread the pain by imposing annoying fees on a wide range of services and products. The gamble? Their constituencies will appreciate Democratic largesse more than taxpayers will feel the pain of more "fees".
Is there a political opening for the Republican Party? Federal tax rates have not been an important issue for voters (the fact that these taxes came down so much during the Reagan and George W. Bush presidencies has minimized the importance of this issue; the GOP is a victim of its own success).
But state taxes have increasingly become a hot topic. Massachusetts residents were upset enough about their income taxes that they gathered enough support to have an initiative to repeal the state income tax vote on the November ballot (it failed). As taxes and fees take their toll on the electorate, expect more efforts by people to take their future into their own hands.
The Republican Party should be ready to capitalize and channel this voter angst about increased taxes and fees. The party should lead the way in publicizing efforts by Democrats to impose these on us-and should highlight the sneaky way Democrats in California are trying to evade the law and on efforts by Governor Paterson to spin his "budget cutting". Perhaps, the increased intrusion of government in our everyday lives might be a linchpin to bring disaffected Libertarians back into the Republican fold.
In the mean time, enjoy the holidays for they may be the last ones before a wide range of taxes-nee fees-come your way.
As if on cue, the Wall Street Journal publishes an article about the wave of new and higher state taxes coming our way.
Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.