The GOP Tax Increase Agenda and Those Promising Governors

Everybody knows Republicans would never, ever support tax increases (or at least haven’t for decades until weak-kneed RINOs allowed Barack Obama to boost income taxes on the wealthy lest they go up on the middle class as well). Yet just beneath the surface of a generation of anti-tax rhetoric has lurked a powerful desire to raise taxes on the non-wealthy in order to cut them for “job creators.” It has been implicit for years in various “flat tax” schemes or consumption tax “reform” schemes, and of course in the ill-suppressed rage over the “lucky ducky” working poor with no income tax liability.

But sometimes, and usually at the state level, the drive for a more regressive tax system that simply redistributes the tax burden down the income scale becomes explicit. That was manifested just yesterday when Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed boosting his state’s sales tax in order to abolish income and corporate taxes altogether.

“The bottom line is that for too long, Louisiana’s workers and small businesses have suffered from having a state tax structure that is too complex and that holds back economic prosperity,” Jindal said in a statement released by his office. “It’s time to change that so people can keep more of their own money and foster an environment where businesses want to invest and create good-paying jobs.”

Jindal said the plan would be revenue-neutral and that the goal would be to keep sales taxes “as low and flat as possible.”

Well, that last part is awfully nice of him, though his interest in keeping sales tax increases low doesn’t quite match the determination to make taxes most affecting corporations and the wealthy at the especially low rate of zero.

Whatever else it means, Jindal’s tax increase gambit should help put to rest the loose and easy talk we keep hearing about Republican governors offering their party a new and moderate face. Jindal is often touted in such talk, and between his tax “ideas” and his cutting-edge school voucher program designed to shovel public dollars to conservative evangelical madrassas, his image as a pragmatic “centrist” is becoming less credible each day. It’s even less merited for another “rising star” Republican governor, South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, who expressed her interest in the same kind of tax agenda (eliminating a sales tax exemption for food to finance an abolition of corporate taxes) as Jindal when running for governor in 2010.

Indeed, who are those “pragmatic” GOP governors who are supposed to save their party from extremism? Rick Perry? Rick Scott? Scott Walker? John Kasich? Mike Pence? Sam Brownback? Paul LePage? Yes, Virginia’s Bob McDonnell has worked pretty hard to erase early impressions that he was a kooky social conservative ideologue, but his juice in the GOP is reflected by the fact that he couldn’t even impose his own lieutenant governor on his own state party as a successor. And yes, there’s always Chris Christie, who if he ever chooses to run for a Republican presidential nomination will have to burnish his Attila the Hun act to overcome the conservative hostility he created by “re-electing Barack Obama” via his kind words for the president during the Sandy disaster.

Word to the pundits who love this “Republican governors to the rescue” meme: extremism in the GOP emanates not from Washington, but from the states and the grassroots. A national Republican Party reshaped according to the designs of someone like Bobby Jindal may be smarter and slicker, but the former exorcist is no “moderate” unless the word has lost all meaning.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.