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Norquist: When Bentley says ‘I need to raise taxes,’ he’s really saying ‘I can’t do my job’

Grover Norquist, President, Americans for Tax Reform
Grover Norquist, President, Americans for Tax Reform

Grover Norquist doesn’t mind playing the villain.

Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington called him “The dark wizard of the Right’s anti-tax cult.” Politico described him as “the high priest of anti-tax orthodoxy who’s convinced nearly every elected Republican to sign a pledge not to raise taxes.” Former Republican U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson went so far as to call Norquist “the most powerful man in America,” and it wasn’t a compliment.

In short, Norquist relishes the roll of being the big, bad anti-tax crusader any time a politician makes a desperate plea for more “revenue,” i.e. tax hikes.

Norquist founded Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) in 1985 at the request of then-President Ronald Reagan. ATR is perhaps best known for organizing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which asks all candidates for federal and state office to commit themselves in writing to opposing all tax increases. In the current Congress, 219 House members and 41 Senators have taken the pledge. On the state level, 1,035 state legislators and 14 governors have taken the pledge.

One of those governors is Alabama’s own Robert Bentley. And considering Bentley’s sudden change of heart on taxes — he’s set to propose a $700 million tax hike on Tuesday — it’s no surprise that the Alabama governor is the latest politician to express frustration with Norquist’s insistence that he stick to his promises.

“I don’t pay much attention to Grover Norquist,” Bentley said condescendingly. “He doesn’t run the state of Alabama.”

Bentley’s predecessor might suggest he pay a bit more attention to Norquist and his allies, who organized a coalition to kill then-Gov. Bob Riley’s billion dollar tax proposal in 2003.

“Riley pulled this same stunt,” Norquist laughed to Yellowhammer on Wednesday. “It went down in flames by a margin of two-to-one.”

But after briefly reminiscing about that previous success, Norquist turned his attention to the issue at hand.

“Robert Bentley did not govern well enough during his first term and now, rather than do the hard work, he raises taxes,” he said. “That is what politicians do when they don’t have the capacity to reform government. Saying to yourself, ‘I need to raise taxes’ is another way of saying, ‘I can’t do my job.’ And if it’s his staff telling him this is a good idea, he should get rid of them and get new ones.”

Norquist painted a stark contrast between Bentley’s tax-raising approach and the tax-cutting tactics being employed by other governor’s around the country, especially those in nearby states with whom Alabama competes for economic development projects.

“Around the country, governors who are actually governing are cutting taxes,” he said. “Next door in Mississippi they’re completely phasing out the income tax. North Carolina is looking to take their corporate tax rate down to three percent and ultimately down to zero. Texas is looking to cut taxes $4 billion over two years. Missouri just passed its first tax cut in literally a century. Florida is looking at $2 billion in additional tax cuts over the next four years. Tennessee is looking at becoming a fully no income tax state. South Carolina’s governor wants a significant tax cut.

“All of these places directly compete with Alabama for jobs and all of them are cutting taxes,” Norquist continued. “They’re going to be able to tell companies, ‘Come here, we’re cutting taxes.’ What’s Bentley supposed to say, ‘Come here, we’re raising taxes’? That’s not a very good sales pitch. He’s probably already costing the state jobs by scaring people off with just the suggestion.”

Bentley claims the day after he won re-election he found out the state’s budget crisis is more dire than he’d realized while campaigning on a “No New Tax” pledge. Norquist said he has never seen a governor change courses this quickly. But although Alabama is not one of the 19 states that allows for recalls, he says voters still should be able to rely on Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature, where members all have to face re-election again in a few years.

“Bentley may be at the end of his career, but the legislators don’t have to be,” he said. “They may be if they choose to vote with him, but they don’t have to. Remember Pinocchio? Every time he got in trouble, he basically tried to say, ‘Well, everyone else was doing it.’ Just because the governor is doing it, that is not cover for the legislators, even those in his own party. Pinocchio got to be a real boy when he decided he was going to be responsible for his own decisions. This was Bentley’s failure to govern. The legislature shouldn’t make it theirs, too.”

From most recent —
1. (Audio) Powerful Senator says Bentley threatening lawmakers won’t work, tax hike DOA
2. ‘Semper Fi!’ Wait ’til you see what Alabama’s Marine Senator did to fight Bentley tax hike
3. ALGOP passes resolution rebuking Bentley tax hike proposal
4. Murphy: Bentley’s either incompetent or lying about budget shortfall revelation
5. Bentley proposes massive $700 million tax hike: ‘We need the money’
6. Alabama lottery: No-brainer budget fix, or potential plague on society?
7. Lawmaker calls out Bentley for using ‘strong-arm’ tactics to push tax hikes
8. Bentley threatens to take infrastructure funding from Districts whose reps don’t back tax hike
9. Awkward: Bentley pushes tax hikes while campaign site still promises ‘No New Taxes’
10. Gov. Bentley: ‘For the next four years we are going to raise taxes’

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