The Corner

Re: Flattening Taxpayers in New Jersey

Ramesh, as a New Jersey taxpayer who’d love to be flattened, I must say I applauded the WSJ editorial today. And as someone who’d like to enthusiastically endorse the eventual Republican nominee, I’ve been dismayed (to put it mildly) by Christie’s attack on Lonegan’s tax plan.

First, in Christie-like fashion, you’re not even accurate in claiming that Christie has noted “accurately that [Lonegan’s] tax plan raises taxes on large numbers of non-rich people.” What establishes that Christie is accurate? The fact that Lonegan would raise taxes on some is not disputed — Lonegan concedes that his flat tax would raise income taxes on some people (mainly people who aren’t paying them now). Christie’s claim is that the figure is 70 percent. Are you vouching for Christie’s accuracy? Or are you just saying he’s accurate insofar as he’s claiming more people would pay some taxes under Lonegan — an unremarkable point even Lonegan doesn’t dispute? And are you disputing Lonegan’s contention that he would reduce the overall tax burden on New Jersey residents much more deeply than Christie would?

Second, are you saying that conservatives should just shrug their shoulders and accept the progressive income tax and the expansive welfare state that it inevitably tends toward? Any sensible effort to reform the income tax is necessarily going to involve raising taxes on people who are not paying their proportionate share — either not paying at all or barely paying. Though those people would end up paying slightly higher income taxes than they pay now under Lonegan’s plan, the offset is that they would get to live in a state with generally low taxes, less government, more jobs, more upward mobility, and more prosperity. (As you don’t mention, Lonegan wants to slash the number of government agencies and cut government spending by $5 billion.) And because there would be less government and a friendlier climate toward business, those same people would end up paying fewer government fees and lower prices on goods, offsetting the slightly higher income taxes. 

Third, don’t we as conservatives think everyone should pay his proportionate share of the cost of government? That is, since we believe in smaller government, don’t we believe everyone should pay taxes and thus have a stake in what government spends our money on? I don’t think government should particularly care what the impact of cow flatulence on the ozone is — I assume that, if this is a real problem, some academic will be researching it whether government gets involved or not. If government is spending my money on such nonsense, I am likely to object. If government is spending your money on it, what do I really care? It doesn’t affect me. Making every citizen pay his proportionate share of government’s cost is the best way to ensure that government doesn’t spend wastefully and, therefore, that it costs us all less. Why is that a bad idea?

Lonegan is pushing actual conservative proposals in the belief that, properly explained, they can win in the arena of ideas. Christie is bellittling those ideas and committing only to to run the welfare state, funded by the progressive income-tax, on a scale somewhat less confiscatory than Democrats would adopt. I think conservatism can win in New Jersey, but it’s a lot less likely if conservatives trash it.

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