Of Taxes and Fire Ants
It’s no surprise that Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, is critical of Governor Dayton’s plan to increase income taxes for the wealthiest two percent of Minnesotans. But in a recent interview with the Star Tribune, he used some interesting language to describe the governor’s views, calling him a “fanatic” who wants to spend “more than the world has ever seen Minnesota spend in the history of Western Civilization.”
If Norquist wants to see a real fanatical policy, he should look at his own. After all, Americans for Tax Reform sponsors the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge”, a document signed by countless conservative legislators across the country that takes revenue increases off the table in budget negotiations. The pledge for governors that Norquist would have Dayton sign reads: “I, [name], pledge to the taxpayers of the state of [state], that I will oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes.”
Norquist’s pledge has put budget negotiations at the state and federal level in a stranglehold, with conservative lawmakers honoring the pledge by refusing to compromise on revenues. This absolutist view is the real fanaticism. There can be no compromise and no progress, here or in Washington, if Norquist’s signees continue to insist that taxes are not up for negotiation. But revenues and spending are two sides of the same budget coin; if conservatives want to get serious about reducing deficits, they would be wise to consider new revenues even if they are unpalatable.
Imagine, for a moment, that Governor Dayton signed his own pledge, one prohibiting any and all cuts to state services. Imagine that, as a result, the governor then refused to compromise on a $39 billion dollar budget that maintained funding levels across the state. Instead, he has rejected the kind of absolutist stance that Norquist demands of lawmakers and has repeatedly compromised on his vision for Minnesota in an effort to reach agreement.
It’s Norquist’s black-and-white policy worldview that makes what he proposes fanatical. For him, raising taxes are always unacceptable, no exceptions. He even told Stephen Colbert that he would oppose raising taxes even if it meant saving the nation’s grandmothers from terrorists and their swarm of fire ants. That may have been a candid interview with a comedian, but it’s a surprisingly accurate portrayal of Norquist’s beliefs.
If our lawmakers hope to come to agreement and make the right choices for Minnesota, they need to be flexible and willing to compromise, not rigid and unyielding. Norquist may call that fanatical, but I call it realistic.