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Robert Houk

Opinion Page Editor
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As I See It

Anti-tax pledges are dishonest and harmful

November 28th, 2011 9:11 am by Robert Houk

Grover Norquist, the pied piper of the anti-tax wing of the Republican Party, is back in the news again. Norquist is the architect of a no-tax-increase pledge signed by many Republicans, including the 1st District’s own Rep. Phil Roe.
Democrats say the Norquist anti-tax pledge was one of the main reasons members of the so-called congressional “supercommittee” could not reach an agreement on deficit reduction. Republicans, on the other hand, argue it was the resistance of Democratic members to consider cuts to Social Security and Medicare that scuttled a deal.
Regardless of who is right, some centrist politicians are now speaking up in regard to the dangers posed by Norquist’s pledge. As I noted in a column earlier this year, it may sound good for an elected official to say he or she has vowed never to raise taxes, but such pledges are disingenuous. They are also hurtful to local taxpayers.
State and federal officials have, for many years now, escaped tax increases by saddling local governments with unfunded mandates. Simply put, local taxpayers are being made to pay for all those promises.
Shifting the tax burden from one level of government to another is simply dishonest. So is misleading voters into thinking that they are not paying more in other ways to cover the government’s cost of doing business. How many times have legislators increased state fees while telling voters they have not raised their taxes?
Elected officials should be completely honest when dealing with their constituents on the issues of taxes and spending. And signing Norquist’s pledge is not the way to do it.
Even so, state lawmakers don’t seem to have a problem with shifting tax burdens to local governments in the form of unfunded mandates. Even more disturbing, however, is that Republican lawmakers now wish to meddle in how local governments pay for those services and programs.
State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, says he will sponsor a bill designed to slow the rate of growth of municipal and county property taxes. His bill would allow local government to continue raising property taxes at 1 percent or less of property values. Property tax increases of more than 1 percent annually, however, would have to be put to a referendum.
Given current state law, one has to wonder what Kelsey is trying to accomplish other than tying the hands of local elected officials. State law requires periodic reappraisals of all property on the tax rolls. Once completed, county officials are asked to recertify the tax rate. That requires the property tax rate to be adjusted — based on the amount of new dollars coming in — to match the amount collected under the last tax rate adopted by the local government.
Technically, it would take a hike to the property tax for the local government to claim all those new dollars. Otherwise, the property tax burden is spread out among new homes and rising property values. This generally results in a lowering of property tax bills.
So what is Kelsey’s point? I don’t think he has one, other than trying to score cheap political points.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at

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