Arkansas & Oklahoma: "No New Taxes" Pledge Trumps Democracy for Grover Norquist


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You may have heard of the "no new taxes" pledge, which is promoted by the extreme anti-government organization, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), and its leader, Grover Norquist. What you may not know is that the pledge bars lawmakers from allowing voters to choose for themselves whether or not to raise taxes. At least that's the latest word from Norquist, who is apparently the sole adjudicator of the meaning of the pledge.

In Arkansas, four legislators who signed the pledge are defending their vote to allow Arkansans to decide whether to increase the state’s diesel fuel tax by five cents per gallon. There's an argument to be made that legislators really ought to make these types of decisions on their own. After all, isn't that what they're paid to do? But this is not the sort of criticism that Arkansas lawmakers are hearing these days.

Instead, the criticism is coming from Grover Norquist and ATR. Business Week reports that several legislators actually voted against HB 1902 because they feared the wrath of Norquist.

What many lawmakers probably thought was a political gimmick when they signed onto it has clearly become a ridiculous obstacle to rational, representative government, as lawmakers become fixated with the opinions of Norquist rather than the opinions of their constituents.

And it hardly helps policymaking when lawmakers are tied to simple, black-or-white dogmas that they feel forced to carry to any and all extremes. Elected officials are put in office so they can, in the words of one of the legislators taking heat, “consider all bills based upon their individual merits.”

Oklahomans are asking questions about the “no new taxes pledge” as well. Recently Grover Norquist said that Oklahoma policymakers supporting a hospital provider fee would violate the “no new taxes” pledge.

A recent blog post from the Oklahoma Policy Institute (OPI) asks simple, yet important questions. “When lawmakers sign a pledge, who are they working for?... Should they adhere to the dictates of outside groups that always take the most simplistic and extreme stance on their particular issue, regardless of the context for Oklahomans?”

OPI also discusses members of Congress and their controversies concerning ATR's pledge. When Senator Tom Coburn said that he was in favor of eliminating ethanol tax subsidies and using the revenue to pay down the national deficit, Norquist said that this position was in violation of the tax pledge.

Coburn responded, “The pledge to uphold your oath to the Constitution of the United States? Or a pledge from a special interest group who claims to speak for all of American conservatives, when in fact they really don’t?”

As OPI puts it, “Leaders now have a choice: do they represent Grover Norquist, or do they represent Oklahoma?”

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