MONTGOMERY — Some national Republican leaders are reconsidering the pledge they made to oppose a tax increase, but Alabama GOP officials who signed similar vows say they stand by them.
“We’ve got an oversized government and an inefficient government, and until we can come to some clarity on where we need to be, I have no intentions of raising taxes,” said state Sen. Paul Bussman, who represents Lawrence County.
The Associated Press reported this week that some national GOP leaders are backing away from their no-new-tax promises pushed by lobbyist Grover Norquist and his organization, Americans for Tax Reform. They said they are trying to avoid a national budget meltdown, and compromising with Democrats is more important than a promise that some made decades ago.
In Alabama, about 24 elected officials have signed Norquist’s pledge, including Bussman, R-Cullman, and Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, according to a website for Norquist’s group. None of those represent Shoals residents.
Alabama’s top Republican, Gov. Robert Bentley, also signed the pledge and repeatedly said during the 2012 legislative session that he would not support any tax increase the Legislature might send his way. He stands by that now, his spokeswoman said.
“Gov. Bentley has stated that he will not support raising taxes on Alabama families,” Jennifer Ardis said.
Shannon Bridgmon, an assistant professor of political science formerly with the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said all it would take in Alabama is a simple majority for the Legislature to raise taxes without Bentley’s support. But that’s not a likely scenario.
“We’re a low-tax state, and we’re proud of that,” Bridgmon said. “We will go without to keep taxes down.”
Bussman said he signed the pledge because it represents his basic philosophy. He compared the fiscal cliff that national lawmakers are dealing with to Alabama’s Medicaid funding problems.
“You could raise taxes 50 times and still not fix Medicaid,” Bussman said of the agency that state funding has grown from $400 million to $603 million in the past two years.
“Every time it jumps up a million dollars, we have to cut something else,” Bussman said. “There’s a point where we have to say we can’t spend anymore.”
Like the federal government, Alabama needs to learn to live within its means, not raise new revenue, Bussman said. He said he would favor setting a spending limit on Medicaid.
Bridgmon said until state services are cut to a point where Alabamians are uncomfortable and demand relief through new revenue, Republicans aren’t likely to raise taxes, with or without a written pledge.
“They’ve just gotten state control (in 2010), and they will move heaven and earth to keep it,” Bridgmon said.
State Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, said any blanket promise from lawmakers should be questioned.
“Anyone who signs a pledge to not do, or do, anything ever, well, you might as well have a robot,” Black said. “Things change, circumstances change. You’re a legislator that has to deal with problems as they confront you. You tie your hands if you pledge to do or not do certain things.”
Black said he often hears people say government should be run like private business.
“You’ll never see a business person who pledges not to raise their prices for four years,” he said. “It sounds good politically, but it is not good leadership.”
It hasn’t been just Republicans who signed the pledge. House Minority Leader
Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, signed it, according to Americans for Tax Reform’s
Ford was not available Tuesday to discuss the pledge.