What do you suppose the phrase "you have to admire their courage -- and their realism" applies to? Our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan? Protesters in Iran? Nope, it applies to Republican governors who are willing to raise taxes. So said Washington Post columnist David Broder last Wednesday.
In a classic example of how not to think outside the box, Broder praised South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Alabama Governor Bob Riley who, unlike President Bush, "have chosen a different -- and more difficult -- course." When both were in Congress, they, presumably, took the easier path of opposing tax increases.
Governor Sanford has found himself in the state Medicaid box. He's tried to extricate himself by raising cigarette taxes a sizable 53 cents per pack. Why Sanford's change of heart? According to Broder, it was "the realities of budget-making." Any student of politics should be wary of the words "the realities of," including "the realities of governing," or "the realities of politics." It is best thought of as liberal code for "time to shaft the taxpayer."
What moved Sanford the most was the once-a-month meeting in which he invites the public to come in and talk. After six months of doing this, he was swayed by "listening to people in compelling fiscal circumstances describe what cutting certain programs would do to them." Did it ever occur to Sanford that such a forum would present a rich opportunity for liberal pressure groups to exploit; that perhaps not all of the folks he was hearing from were there under honest pretenses? Perhaps I'm being cynical. More likely, Sanford was in search of an excuse.
While I'm in the mode of what "occurred" to Sanford, how about reforming his state's Medicaid program with a system of medical savings accounts? That's some outside-the-box thinking that could help cut South Carolina's Medicaid costs. But then, you wouldn't have any need to spend more money on Medicaid. And without spending more money, South Carolina wouldn't be able to "trigger $400 million of federal health care funds," that, according to Sanford, "we're leaving on the table in Washington." No need for reform when you can fleece the taxpayers and the feds in one fell swoop!
Meanwhile, Governor Riley finds himself in a box largely of his own making. True, the $645 million deficit was due in large part to his predecessor's doubling of the state debt and large raise given to teachers. But his decision to tackle the matter with a $1.2 billion tax increase is all Riley's. He has justified this by claiming that education in Alabama isn't adequately funded, and Alabama will never be part of the 21st century economy without a world class education system. Riley's actions have angered conservatives and shocked the Alabama GOP, but never fear, "he has found allies in the business elites and the newspaper editorial page editors," according to Broder.
More money for Alabama's education system is a dubious solution. As Paul J. Gessing of the National Taxpayers Union noted, Riley had stated that Don Siegelman, the Governor he defeated in 2002, "spent $2 billion more than the previous administration on education, yet the public school system in Alabama is no better off than it was four years ago." Gessing suggested some outside-the-box ideas for reforming Alabama like vouchers and charter schools. Riley could also consider a system of open enrollment. As for the budget, looking for places to cut state spending would be a good start. However, such solutions would mean taking on the public employees' and teachers' unions, which would take real "courage." Much easier to propose a massive tax increase and win the accolade of liberal newspaper editorialists.
Not only has Riley constructed his own box, he may have made one so large that he may be unable to climb out. It isn't hard to imagine a conservative Alabama Democrat winning the nomination for Governor in 2006 and running on a no-new-taxes pledge. Mark Sanford isn't in such bad shape. He will be, though, unless he abandons the inside-the-box thinking of raising taxes to solve government problems.