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Governors promise to cut spending, not raise taxes

WASHINGTON — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie swept into office last year promising to erase a $10.7 billion deficit — about a third of the state's overall annual spending — without raising a penny in new taxes. Instead, Christie ordered dramatic cuts — from reductions in K-12 education to the cancellation of the nation's largest public works project — that have made him a deeply polarizing figure.

Spending cuts of that magnitude soon could become common elsewhere, too. An analysis of the governors' races decided Tuesday finds that at least 12 of the nation's new governors have ruled out tax increases, even as they face billions in collective deficits. All are Republicans except New York Democrat Andrew Cuomo.

In addition, two incumbent Republicans who won on Tuesday, Alaska's Sean Parnell and Texas' Rick Perry, also took firm antitax stands on the campaign trail this year. Almost all of those vowing not to raise taxes have signed a written pledge with Americans for Tax Reform, an antitax group headed by Grover Norquist.

These new or returning anti-tax governors will be under heavy political pressure to keep their campaign promises and balance their budgets by slashing spending in dramatic ways.

The pressure could be even greater since Christie helped elect some of them, visiting 15 states in the runup to the election and reportedly raising more than $8 million for GOP candidates.

"The governors who ran on no-tax pledges would be well-advised to follow (Christie's) example," said Curtis Dubay, a tax policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "States have been so profligate in their spending for so long that this correction was inevitable."

But other budget experts worry that states cannot simply cut their way out of the budget problems they face today, particularly in some of the states where antitax candidates were successful this election.

In Nevada, for example, Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval will face a deficit that could be as much as $3 billion — or half the state's two-year budget — when he is sworn in next year. Perry has vowed not to raise taxes even if voters themselves agree to it, but Texas faces a two-year shortfall that could be as big as $21 billion. Two heavily populated political battlegrounds, Ohio and Florida, also expect multibillion-dollar budget shortfalls and elected Republican governors who have ruled out tax hikes.

In Pennsylvania, another state picked up by the GOP, Gov.-elect Tom Corbett may have a unique challenge. He will face a shortfall of up to $5 billion next year, but has ruled out fee increases — such as those paid for car registration — to go along with his pledge against tax hikes.

New York's Cuomo stands alone among Democratic winners who reject tax hikes, even though the state faces among the biggest budget challenges in the nation. Cuomo's 252-page "plan for action" includes a promise to freeze taxes.

Nationally, at least 40 percent of the U.S. population will be represented starting next year by governors who have vowed not to raise taxes. Although exact budget gaps for next year aren't yet known, the National Conference of State Legislatures estimates a collective national shortfall of $72 billion. That figure could grow if the nation's economic recovery continues at a slow pace.

Not all new governors, of course, are vowing outright to reject all tax hikes. Many of them have staked out more nuanced positions that could allow them to adapt to circumstances once they are in office.

For example, South Dakota's incoming governor, Republican Dennis Daugaard, has said he will raise taxes only in an emergency.

In Colorado, Democrat John Hickenlooper has floated the idea of a voluntary tax hike on oil and gas companies.

Other candidates who won on Tuesday took the unusual position of pledging to raise taxes.

Victorious Rhode Island independent Lincoln Chafee wants to add a sales tax to items that are now exempt.

Minnesota Democrat Mark Dayton, who was locked in a too-close-to-call race against Republican Tom Emmer that may go to a recount, wants to raise income taxes on the wealthy.

Governors promise to cut spending, not raise taxes 11/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 6, 2010 10:49pm]
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