Conservatives must oppose Gov. Bentley’s tax increases

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley speaks during the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Lunch Monday, Feb. 2, 2015, at the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel in Mobile, Ala. (Mike Brantley/mbrantley@al.com)

When Governor Robert Bentley first asked for our vote in 2010, he promised that he wouldn’t raise taxes. He even signed a well-known document called the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. It read, “I, Robert Bentley pledge to the taxpayers of the state of Alabama, that I will oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes.”

During his reelection campaign last year, Bentley repeated his policy, this time proudly repeating a three-word promise that, for the moment, remains prominently displayed on his 2014 campaign website: “No New Taxes.”

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“Our promise to the people of Alabama is to run this state as efficiently as possible, without raising taxes,” reads another line from the “Issues” section of the website. “And that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

At least until now.

Despite his signed pledge and repeated assurances on the campaign trail, Bentley recently told a group of lawmakers and business leaders in Mobile that he indeed plans to raise taxes on Alabamians.

Conservatives must oppose Bentley’s effort, completely and without reservation.

While details of the governor’s plan remain unclear, he told reporters that his administration is targeting deductions and “unequally paid taxes.” What little has been said about the plan signals that it might target the very thing Alabama needs — new businesses relocating to our state — and the coming debate could slip into the nasty world of class warfare.

The phrase “unequally paid taxes” sounds like an awkward rewording of the tired liberal slogan of paying one’s “fair share,” which is an adjustable figure pegged to whatever the government happens to want.

During the state’s battle over tax increases in 2002, the charge of “paying their fair share” was aimed at out-of-state corporations. These job-producers were cast as the villains in a narrative that pitted the haves against the have-nots. It was class warfare at its worst. I remember hearing one radio ad playing in Montgomery that said these corporations were “terrorizing” Alabama’s poor by not paying their “fair share.” I couldn’t believe that word was used to describe our tax code so soon after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but such are the tactics of class warfare.

The businesses that have relocated to Alabama in the past few years have done so partly because of our state’s low tax environment. In the highly competitive world of economic development, raising taxes on corporations could be the deciding factor that keeps away the next Airbus or Remington. Why would a company relocate to Alabama after its leaders eliminate the deductions that make it attractive in the first place? Texas is always open for business. If anything is done during the next legislative session that targets these job producers, it should be examining ways for them to do business more easily and profitably.

“I am not for raising taxes and this actually would not be raising taxes,” Bentley told AL.com in December. ‘It would be taking away some deductions.”

Call it whatever you want — involuntary out-of-state corporate fiscal donations, perhaps — but whether you raise rates or decrease deductions, it all amounts to the same thing: more money flowing from job-creating businesses and into state coffers.

Americans for Tax Reform, the anti-tax group run by Grover Norquist that distributes and catalogs the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, issued a statement a few weeks ago reminding Bentley of his promise. When asked by reporters about the friendly reminder Bentley dismissed the group. “I don’t pay much attention to Grover Norquist,” Bentley said. “He doesn’t run the state of Alabama.”

That’s fair. Bentley didn’t make the pledge to Norquist. He made the pledge to Alabamians, and he should certainly pay attention to us. But even if he doesn’t, the lawmakers who’ll have to approve any tax increases should.

“I don’t know what he has in mind,” said Rep. Randy Davis, R-Daphne, after hearing the governor’s speech in Mobile. “Probably 75 percent of the Legislature ran on no new taxes.”

Bentley doesn’t have to face the voters again, but 100-percent of the Legislature will in just three short years. Even if our lawmakers forget their pledges and promises not to raise taxes, I’m certain the state’s conservative voters will remember.