Using Semantics To Avoid Blame For A Tax Increase

Updated 1/25/2019

CORRECTION:  As originally posted we said only 6% of the members of the Arkansas legislature signed a “no tax increase” pledge. The correct percentage is 17%. We apologize for the error. We strive to always be accurate. We also thank our friends for catching the error.

Seventeen percent is still an embarrassingly low number for a Republican legislature.

Arkansas legislators who made the “No Tax Increase” pledge sponsored by Americans for Tax were asked by the Democrat-Gazette whether it would break their pledge if they voted to refer a tax on gasoline and diesel fuel to a vote of the people.[i]

Some legislators said “yes” it would break the pledge.  Others said “no” it wouldn’t violate their pledge because technically they wouldn’t be voting on a tax but would be merely sending the tax issue to a vote of the people.

Grover Norquist, of Americans for Tax Reform was asked whether he thinks referring a tax to the people violates the pledge.  He dodged the question.

“The commitment is to the voters and the people of Arkansas,” he said, referring to the pledge. “The argument [over compliance with the pledge] is going to be with the people of Arkansas — not me.”

So, we are asking you, the people of Arkansas: “Do you think voting to refer a tax to the ballot is equivalent to the legislator voting “For” the tax? We are talking about all legislators, not just the ones who made a pledge against tax increases.

BEFORE YOU ANSWER, lets talk about what it means when the legislature refers an issue to the voters.  In this case it appears there are not enough votes in the legislature to impose the new tax. The only option to move forward with the effort to impose a tax is to get the legislature to refer the tax to the ballot.

  • For a legislator who opposes the tax the only sure bet is to just say “No.” (“No” to the tax and “No” to referring the issue to the ballot.) That guarantees there will be no tax.
  • A legislator who wants the tax will of course be “For” referring the issue to the ballot.
  • What about a legislator who says: “I just want to let the people decide”? At worst this is a deception to get a tax passed, and in the best light it means the legislator doesn’t care whether the tax passes or not.
  • And then there are the few special cases where a legislator will say, “Personally I oppose the tax but I just want the people to have the opportunity to vote on it.” Either there isn’t communication between the left and right sides of the brain, or the legislator is doing a dance to try to avoid responsibility.

Ballot Deception

In 2017 some legislators tried to get the gas and diesel tax question referred to the people but they came up short on votes in the House of Representatives.

But here is the kicker – the ballot was NOT going to say anything about raising taxes!  Instead the issue you would have been asked to vote on was whether to authorize a bond issue for highways.  The bond issue would have automatically triggered the tax without the ballot ever mentioning a tax.

So, when a legislator says he wants to give you the opportunity to vote on more taxes the ballot may not ever say anything about taxes.

Sad state of affairs

According to the Democrat-Gazette only 23 of Arkansas state legislators signed the no tax increase pledge. But, there are 100 Representatives and 35 Senators in the Arkansas legislature. That means less than 6% 17% of the members of the legislature made a no tax increase pledge.  When looking at how few legislators made the pledge remember this legislature is overwhelmingly Republican – you know the party that is supposed to be about less taxes.

How few made the pledge is a likely indicator of what is ahead this session and in indicator of the games the legislature will play with your taxes.

If that is not depressing enough, consider that some of the 23 are saying the pledge doesn’t count if they merely refer the issue to the ballot.

Let your legislator know whether you are for or against a new tax on gasoline and diesel fuels. Tell them to vote it up or down instead of trying to pass it by putting it on the ballot.