The Political Damage of Tax Increases: Wisconsin Edition
by D.J. McGuire
When I was a Republican, nothing would get my attention quite like the political damage tax increases did to the GOP. Republicans in Virginia raised taxes three times in less than a decade (2004, 2007, and 2013), and as a Republican committee member and a blogger, I railed against them, not just as bad policy, but as terrible politics.
Well, I switched parties in 2016, so to my fellow Democrats I have one message: it’s your turn now.
Last year, Wisconsin appeared to join the rest of the country in revolting against President Trump and electing Democrats across the board. However, many of the victories were narrow – and one victor in particular (now Governor Tony Evers) promised in his winning campaign that he was “planning to raise no taxes” (Politifact).
You already know where this is going, but just in case (same link):
Evers introduced a two-year, $83 billion budget that would repeal the state’s right-to-work law, raise the minimum wage and expand the BadgerCare Plus health care program through Obamacare.
And it would raise the gas tax by $485 million and other taxes by more than $550 million.
To be fair, the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff tried to argue there were tax cuts elsewhere in the budget, and the governor is trying to pair the tax hike with the removal of a bizarre anti-competitive “markup” mandate on gasoline, but voters still aren’t happy.
How do we know that? They voted against a Democratic-endorsed candidate for Supreme Court this week.
Charlie Sykes has the details in The Atlantic, but the summary is ugly for Democrats: a chance to add a crucial seat on the State Supreme Court (it’s currently 5-2 rightward) fell apart – and a Republican-endorsed candidate who likened “homosexual behavior” to bestiality (admittedly in a dry, legalist sense, but it’s still an utterly abhorrent thing to say) and refused to walk it back was narrowly elected to the post. The race was close enough for a recount, which means it was close enough that every factor likely had an impact …
… including the factor in the Governor’s office who pulled a “Full Flop” (as Politifact called it) and proposed a surprise tax increase just before the vote.
How much of an impact this will have on 2020 is unclear, but Democrats in Wisconsin need to take note. Jim Florio tried the same two-step in New Jersey in 1989-90; he succeeded in delaying the Garden State realignment to his party by a decade at the state level. Tim Kaine, on his way out of the Virginia Governor’s Mansion in late 2009, proposed a massive tax increase. His party promptly lost three Congressional seats and the State Senate before Barack Obama and the aforementioned 2013 tax increase changed the channel.
I get that the Democratic Party isn’t used to making strenuous attempts to avoid tax increases by being more efficient with public spending. Truth be told, Republicans aren’t either; they just know how to talk the talk. Democrats can, however, find a rich trove of voters if they can manage to walk the walk on government delivering progressive policy ends via conservative budget means.
Or, they can keep trying surprise tax increases and wondering why voters keep recoiling in horror, but we’ve seen that movie already. We know how it ends.