Is there any governor in American history who has gotten off to a more ignominious start than Georgia’s newly elected chief executive Sonny Perdue? Republicans in the state waited more than 100 years to wrestle the governorship from the Democrats, but it took only 24 hours for the new Republican regime to request a giant tax increase.
Perdue has called for a $762 million tax hike. This would include an increase in the so-called “sin taxes” on tobacco and alcohol, fee increases, and a hike in statewide property taxes. But Perdue and his fellow Georgia Republicans ran as fervent anti-tax conservatives, and promised a more taxpayer friendly constellation of policies. What fiscal frauds.
Many liberal commentators around the country have hardly been able to contain their glee about Sonny Perdue’s budgetary hypocrisy. If Republicans in the legislature vote for the Perdue budget, the Georgia GOP could be banished for another 100 years — kicked into political oblivion, and deservedly so.
Ironically, the two previous Democratic governors in Georgia, Zell Miller and Roy Barnes, were honest-to-goodness fiscal conservatives. They both cut taxes on numerous occasions. Barnes had pledged that he wouldn’t raise taxes if re-elected. So in Georgia, the party roles are reversed. The Republicans are now the pro-tax party, and the Democrats are the anti-tax party.
The Democratic Lt. Governor, Mark Taylor, who wants to run against Perdue in four years, has pledged to fight the Republican tax hike. Right on! “I am totally stunned the governor would try to take the easy way out and raise taxes,” he recently complained in a Washington Post interview, adding this sweet music: “We are not like Washington, D.C., Democrats. We will oppose the tax increase.” But apparently the Sonny Perdue Republicans are just like Washington, D.C., Democrats. And that’s no compliment.
Conservatives in Georgia should fight right alongside the Democrats to derail the Republican tax increase express. For the past several days the Georgia members of the organization I work for, Club for Growth, have been cursing the new GOP regime and pledging to block this fiscally irresponsible budget.
What is astonishing is that Perdue turned to giant tax hikes even before even pretending to make an effort to cut the badly bloated budget in Atlanta. Perdue doesn’t seem to understand that Georgia, as with most every state this year, has a chronic overspending problem — not a revenue-shortfall problem. Perdue adopts the standard left-wing education rhetoric of “meeting the needs of families and children.”
Thus his budget throws money at dubious government programs: more dollars for pre-kindergarten programs, more money for foster care, more money for higher education, and more money for school construction. But if there is any money for the reform that really matters in improving academic achievement — expanding parental choice in education — I couldn’t find it in the budget, and the governor never mentioned it in his budget speech.
Tax revenue growth has exploded in Georgia over the past decade. The budget is more than twice as large as it was in 1990 — and so are total revenues. After adjusting for inflation, tax revenues have climbed from $7.1 billion to $14.4 billion. How could any rational person look at this steep revenue growth and conclude that new taxes are needed to balance the budget?
A Cato Institute study shows that if the Georgia budget had simply grown at the rate of inflation and population growth over the past decade, the state would have a $1.9 billion surplus today, not a deficit. Cato’s analysis shows that if spending had been restrained over the past decade — as many states out west require — the average Georgia household would be getting a $635 tax cut this year.
There is nothing in Perdue’s budget about tax-and-expenditure limitation measures to make sure that spending sprees don’t happen again. There is no call for an audit of state agencies to ferret out waste and inefficiency and duplication of services, things that are endemic in state budgets. There is no call for a super-majority vote-increase requirement to raise taxes. There is nothing in his budget that would require a vote of the people before taxes are raised. My suspicion is that if the Perdue tax hike were put to a vote of the people it would be soundly defeated.
Georgia should be cutting taxes in tough times. This is the model that has been so effectively employed by past pro-growth governors like John Engler of Michigan and William Weld of Massachusetts. They understood what Gov. Perdue doesn’t: States can’t tax their way to prosperity.
“This isn’t the kind of budget I wanted to submit,” whines Gov. Perdue. Well, governor, it’s not exactly the kind of budget taxpayers had in mind, either. Voters thought they were electing a Ronald Reagan, not a Michael Dukakis.
— Stephen Moore is president of the Club for Growth and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute where he publishes the Institute’s “Fiscal Report Card on the Governors.”