Rat head in the Coke bottle: Getting Republicans out of the tax-raising business

Grover Norquist

Americans for Tax Reform’s President, Grover Norquist, tells it like this:

The Republican Party is a brand. Like Coca-Cola. Consumers know what Coke tastes like. It tastes the same from every bottle and out of every soda fountain. There’s no guessing what Coke tastes like from one drink to the next.

Since ATR’s inception in 1985 at the behest of Ronald Reagan, it’s been trying to brand the Republican Party as the party of lower taxes — the party opposed to tax increases. That attempt has been largely successful.

ATR’s “Taxpayer Protection” pledge puts candidates and elected officials on record opposing tax increases. And it holds them accountable when they stray.

So, when a Republican attempts to raise taxes, that damages the brand. It’s like a rat head in a Coke bottle. Someone drinking a Coke wouldn’t discover a rat head in the bottle and say to themselves, “Hmmm, perhaps I’ll finish this bottle later.” No. They would seriously consider whether or not they would drink another Coke ever again. They might tweet about it, show their friends, and discourage others from drinking Coke. That’s a branding problem.

Let’s consider a few surprising gubernatorial pick-ups from last Tuesday and see what those Republicans did that helped them cross the finish line.

In Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts, the Republican candidates for governor largely ran against their opponents’ records on taxes.

Successful Republican challenger Bruce Rauner in Illinois outlined his tax plan online:

The Quinn-Madigan 67% income tax hike.

Out-of-control property taxes.

A broken tax system. Giveaways for big businesses with no regard for the small businesses that are the jobs engine of our economy.

The result? Among the highest taxes in the nation and the worst unemployment in the Midwest.

We need to completely overhaul the tax code; not just tinker around the edges. To do that, we can:

  • Get rid of the Quinn-Madigan 67% income tax hike.
  • Get rid of the Quinn-Madigan 45% corporate tax hike.
  • Ensure your property taxes never go up if the value of your home decreases.
  • Overhaul the tax code so that it’s fair to all taxpayers.
In Maryland, Republican Larry Hogan railed against outgoing Democrat Martin O’Malley’s tax hikes, and successfully nailed them to his opponent, O’Malley’s Lieutenant Governor, Anthony Brown.

The Washington Examiner took a look at Hogan’s successful campaign to tie Democrat Brown to O’Malley’s tax hikes:

Change Maryland [Hogan’s statewide operation before running for Governor] researched and reported on the [tax] data, put it in a user-friendly format and made it widely available. The bottom line was stunning. Maryland lost $1.7 billion in taxable income to other states in just three years under O’Malley and Brown. Maryland joins high-tax states in the Northeast, Midwest and California among those with the largest exodus between 2007 and 2010. Maryland saw the seventh-highest negative net migration in the nation, hardly a beacon of prosperity. Hogan’s opponent could not refute the facts.

Brown was also caught flat-footed trying to explain the tax legacy of his administration, which many believe is the main reason why Marylanders are moving out. Change Maryland listed the administration’s 40 increases in taxes, fees and tolls buried in state government documents, put them in a table and gave it to the press. The report determined that the new taxes were costing Marylanders $3.1 billion a year — on top of the levies they already were paying. Hogan reached voters in a lousy economic recovery fed up paying the government more — at the toll booth, at the cash register, on their state tax returns, when they get a birth certificate and when they renew a driver’s license.

Charlie Baker, the successful Republican for governor in deep-blue Massachusetts, also ran against tax increases. He supported the successful initiative to repeal the automatic gas tax increase and promised on his campaign site (emphasis mine):

Charlie will not raise taxes, period. He will work to reform a tax code that has grown overly complicated – benefiting only special interests while harming workers, families, and small businesses. Charlie has pledged to increase local aid to towns and cities in order to preserve services and control local property taxes.

Likewise in Kansas, Republican Governor Sam Brownback launched an aggressive initiative to ratchet down his state’s income taxes until they were completely abolished. Liberals came at him with guns blazing to make sure his “failed initiative” actually failed, but he won nearly every county and eeked out re-election.

Republicans who ran against high taxes won. And the Republican governor whose first term included tax increases lost.

Pennsylvania Republican Governor Tom Corbett pledged not to raise taxes during his 2010 campaign. As Penn Live reported back in 2012, Corbett’s tax-raising record was spotty, at best.

Corbett’s ultimately successful opponent accused him of raising the gas tax, and the York Daily Record reported:

The Republican governor did approve a gas-tax increase in November as part of a more than $2.3 billion transportation package. The increase for gas and diesel is charged at the wholesale level, but multiple businesses have said they have to pass the cost along to consumers.

The increase is being phased in over multiple years, and the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a think tank that says it’s dedicated to rolling back the size of government, calculated that it equals a minimum 27-cent per gallon increase for gas by 2017. The minimum increase would be slightly less than that by 2018.

The minimum increase would be higher for diesel.

Republicans can and should be the party of lower taxes. And from the looks of the 2014 gubernatorial contests, it seems voters have gotten used to the Republicans’ low-tax brand.

For the party’s sake, they should strive to keep the rat heads out of their Coke bottle.


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