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No-tax nonsense

December 30, 2008

Republican members of the Assembly and state Senate signed pledges to oppose any tax increase, and so far they have not moved from that position. One result is that California has a budget billions of dollars out of balance. Schools must cut education programs, physicians who treat patients eligible for Medi-Cal are going unpaid, many bond-funded construction projects have been halted and the state's credit rating is in jeopardy.

GOP lawmakers don't bear the sole blame for these catastrophes, because higher taxes are not and should never be deemed the automatic government response to an economic downturn. In fact, Republican lawmakers are correct when they argue that higher taxes can slow recovery at just the time the state needs to juice the economic machinery. But that argument frames what ought to be Republicans' main point: not that taxes must be avoided at all costs but that Sacramento must protect Californians and get the economy moving.

The no-tax pledge, or, more formally, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge -- originated and monitored by Republican lobbyist Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform -- blindly promotes one policy position over the interests of the economy and even taxpayers. It's the wrong pledge.

In taking their official oaths, lawmakers are required to promise to support and defend the U.S. and state constitutions and swear that they aren't part of an organization committed to violent overthrow of the government. But by running for and taking office, they imply more than that. They commit themselves to serving the best interests of their constituents and the state.

California is facing something worse than higher taxes. The effect of a cutoff in state payments to workers who must stop building and maintaining roads, bridges, schools and waterworks would do more than simply undermine voters' intent in authorizing bonds and preparing for the future. It also would keep the workers from pumping their pay back into the economy and the corresponding tax money into state coffers. The same is true of the thousands of teachers and others who inevitably will be laid off if the state fails to come up with more revenue.

If they must, Republican lawmakers can forget the growing number of Californians who need the very services now on the chopping block. They can concentrate instead on the additional money that even deeper cuts will take out of the economy and see that modest or temporary tax increases will serve California better. Pledging to protect the economic health and general welfare of Californians should take precedence over the candidate ratings and scorecards put out by anti-tax groups.

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