Limited Taxation & Government
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Barbara's Bi-Weekly Column

The Patriot Ledger
Saturday, October 10, 1998

Taking the Pledge
By Barbara Anderson

Here is a quiz for the electorate:

Republican Senator Bob Hedlund did it. Democrat Representative Mike Ruane did it. Libertarian candidate Dean Cook did it.

Two hundred fifty-two members of the 105th Congress did it, so far.

New Hampshire politicians do it all the time if they want to get elected.

Hungry pets were grateful for it in Kentucky.

George Bush did it, but didn't keep it.

Mike Dukakis didn't do it, and we all lived to regret that he didn't.

Bill Weld did it, and saved the commonwealth.

Paul Cellucci did it last year when he took over as governor.

Scott Harshbarger refuses to do it.

You should ask your local legislative candidates if they did it.

What is it?

It's the Taxpayer Protection Pledge!

The Pledge began right here in New England, in our neighboring state of New Hampshire. Ever since Meldrim Thomson initiated it in the 70s, candidates for governor have been expected to promise that they will not endorse a broad-based state tax. Only one candidate, who ran against an unpopular utility bail-out, was given a pass on The Pledge -- because voters knew that the Republican legislature would not send an income or sales tax to his desk.

The Taxpayer Protection Pledge went national in the '80s, when the Washington-based Americans for Tax Reform first sent it to Congressional incumbents and challengers. Eventually, working with local taxpayers groups around the country, ATR began compiling pledge-takers among candidates for governor, state senator and state representative.

George Bush made it his campaign motto: "Read my lips, no new taxes." When he broke it, his credibility was hurt and he was unable to wage an effective campaign against a candidate who promised a middle-class tax cut. That candidate won, and now we are debating impeachment for perjury on another subject while that president threatens to veto a House-proposed middle-class tax cut.

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we break The Pledge.

Some people consider The Pledge to be a gimmick that politicians use to get elected. Certainly George Bush wasn't the only one to break a no-new-taxes promise, and Bill Clinton isn't the only one to break a promise to cut taxes. This is why "politician" does not head the list of most trusted occupations.

But some politicians have kept their word and deserve applause. In Kentucky, a pet food tax and a glass tax failed in part because legislative pledge signers kept their commitment. In New Mexico, Governor Gary Johnson, a pledge signer, vetoed legislation that would raise the tax on cigarettes. "I came into office determined not to raise taxes," Johnson said.

It's a determination that works for any governor who must deal with a tax-hiking legislature. Other politicians may not understand anti-tax arguments about fairness, economic impact, or unaffordability, but they can grasp the concept of political danger.

When Bill Weld took The Pledge, Massachusetts was barely surviving eight years of a governor who had refused to take it. Instead, Mike Dukakis played The Game: he and theLegislature spent more than they took in, caused a fiscal crisis, then required a major tax increase to pay the bills. There were tax hikes in 1989 and 1990, and the fiscal crisis worsened. Bill Weld and the Pledge won the 1990 election, and put an end to The Game.

The new governor made it clear that the option of raising taxes to cover a deficit was no longer available. So seeing the handwritten pledge on the wall, Democrat legislators cooperated with the Republican administration to avoid deficits, and the state economy began its recovery.

When Weld left, his successor took The Pledge: "I, Governor Paul Cellucci, pledge to the taxpayers of Massachusetts that I will oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes."

On September 22nd, Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government sent the same Pledge to Scott Harshbarger by certified mail. We have not yet received an answer, but on October 6th he told the South Shore Chamber at a breakfast meeting that "it's a stupid pledge."

Tell that to the taxpayers of Massachusetts and the pets of Kentucky, pal.

Barbara Anderson is co-director of Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government. Her bi-weekly column is syndicated and appears in the (Quincy) Patriot Ledger, (Salem) Evening News, (Attleboro) Sun-Chronicle and the (Worcester) Telegram-Gazette.

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