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'Enough, already, with tax pledges'

Last modified: 9/23/2010 12:00:00 AM
In these pages yesterday, officials from an organization called Americans for Prosperity complained that most candidates for public office in New Hampshire have refused to sign their anti-tax, anti-spending pledge. They mailed out more than 1,000 pledges and received just 300 back. Some candidates, they said, have even refused to accept the certified mail in which the pledge was delivered to their homes.

Good for them.

New Hampshire state politics and government have long been hamstrung by pledges, in particular "The Pledge," the one popularized by former governor Mel Thomson, in which candidates swear their opposition to a statewide sales or income tax.

The result: a tax system in which the overall burden is low but local property taxes generate much of the revenue required to keep government running. The burden falls disproportionately on those least able to pay. A structural deficit at the state level forces constant tinkering with pesky fees and small taxes. In difficult times, it also means starving the parks system, the court system and the mental health system, to name but three. And, as we've seen dramatically in Unity this summer, poor communities continue to have difficulty financing their schools.

The latest pledge, touted by Thomson's son Tom, asks politicians not only to forswear a general sales and income tax but also to promise to cut existing taxes and fees, cut spending and cut the size of government. Although the challenge seems aimed most directly at state legislators, among the signers are candidates for Executive Council and even a guy running for sheriff in Grafton County and one running for chief prosecutor in Hillsborough County. They include the Republican candidates for governor, for the U.S. Senate and both seats in Congress.

The logic seems to be that all government, at all levels, no matter the size, is inherently too big. All taxes are too high. All fees are too big.

No matter what unknown challenges await us in the next few years - high unemployment, ice storms, tornadoes - the oath-takers' minds are already made up about how government should - and shouldn't - respond.

How refreshing it would be if politicians and voters could put such simple-minded oaths aside for once and strive instead for a frank conversation about long-term fixes to the state's fiscal challenges - with all options on the table.

Mel Thomson's tenure ended more than 30 years ago. Here in the 21st century, perhaps voters might just consider supporting candidates who take a more open-minded view.


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