Posted: Saturday, May 16, 2015 10:43 pm | Updated: 2:44 pm, Sun May 17, 2015.
By Tim Lockette, Star Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
A year ago, Gov. Robert Bentley could be seen almost anywhere in the state, on campaign billboards that read, in part, “No New Taxes.” These days, Bentley is on the campaign trail again, stumping for a $541 million tax increase. It may seem like a contradiction, but it’s really not, Bentley said.
“When I said ‘no new taxes,’ that’s exactly right,” Bentley said in a speech in Anniston last week. “We had no new taxes in the first four years.”
Bentley’s careful wording on the billboard question is just one example of the careful path many Republican leaders, once emboldened by the tea party surge of 2010, are walking this year, and not just in Alabama. In an era when Republicans are avidly anti-tax, many states can’t make ends meet, political scientists say. This leaves red-state politicians in a bind, they say.
“Voters still have the schizophrenic orientation that the state can provide services at the same levels, and even better than what exists now, with less money,” said William Stewart, an emeritus political science professor at the University of Alabama. “It puts elected officials in an impossible position.”
The Alabama Legislature has been deadlocked for weeks over a proposed General Fund budget for 2016. A budget now working its way through the House of Representatives would have the General Fund spending $1.64 billion in 2016, a full $204 million less than was budgeted for this year.
Bentley said those cuts would be disastrous for prisons, mental health and the judicial system. His effort to build support for taxes to shore up the budget has him, on occasion, recasting some of his party’s core narratives on how conservatives tax and spend.
Nobody’s ever gotten beat over a tax, folks,” Bentley said. “Even George Bush didn’t get beat over the tax.” John Kartch, vice president of Americans for Tax Reform, disagrees.
“Bentley isn’t only wrong,” Kartch wrote in an email to The Star. “He knows he’s not being truthful.”
Americans for Tax Reform, headed by Grover Norquist, is perhaps best known as the organization that challenges politicians to put their names to a no-tax pledge. Bentley has signed that pledge. He told The Star he signed it in 2010, prior to his first term, and kept it throughout that term – after which, he didn’t consider it binding.
Bentley also said he and other state officials have ties that are stronger than a pledge to a political organization.
“There’s nothing wrong with looking at what your problems are and trying to solve those problems,” he said. “Leaders do that. Politicians don’t do that. Politicians just say, you know, I signed a pledge with Grover Norquist, whoever that guy is.”