Responsible governing requires flexibility on taxes

I have been hoping the legislature will try again to pass the pet food tax next year.

This was a small proposed tax whose proceeds would have been earmarked for badly needed spay and neuter programs. For no good reason, Governor Susana Martinez vetoed it, maintaining her unblemished record of not approving any taxes. Had she signed the bill, the program could perhaps have saved local governments much more than it would have cost. That would be taxpayer money well spent. I’m hoping one of the cosponsors will reintroduce it in 2019. (The main sponsor, Rep. Carl Trujillo, won’t be back.)

New Mexico is overdue to apply gross receipts tax to Internet sales. Since a recent US Supreme Court decision affirmed the right of states to tax online sales, I’ve been hoping someone’s drafting that bill. When retail purchases are made online instead of from local stores with local employees, the state loses out all around. The tax advantage has been unfair for years. It’s time to level that playing field for New Mexico businesses.

It’s often said that our gross receipts tax system in general is messy and needs reform, in part because it is riddled with exemptions. When taxes are reformed, some taxpayers end up paying less and some pay more. It’s possible that a tax overhaul could increase some taxes, perhaps for industries that have been enjoying special advantages.

And we should be open to the option of increasing New Mexico’s gasoline tax. Our gasoline tax of $.17 per gallon is among the lowest in the country. A small increase, earmarked for the road fund, might save money not in taxes, but in the cost of wear-and-tear on our vehicles and auto insurance due to safer roads. And better roads might encourage economic development. That would also be money well spent.

So voters should know that Congressman Steve Pearce, Republican gubernatorial candidate, recently announced he has taken the “no tax increase” pledge. If Pearce becomes governor, none of these things is possible.

The tax pledge, which has been fashionable among some Republicans for several years, is credited to Grover Norquist, a well-known anti-tax spokesperson. Norquist’s most famous comment was that he would like to see government reduced to the size of a bathtub and then drowned in the bathtub. We may guess that Norquist has never needed the services of a police officer, doesn’t mind industrial waste in the water he drinks and would prefer that the children of parents who cannot afford private schools get no education at all.

Curbing the excesses of government is a worthy goal. Conservatives have tried to do that by limiting the revenue to government so that lawmakers are forced to reduce government activity. But many of us would argue that New Mexico needs more essential services, not fewer, and should have more resources to improve roads, schools, law enforcement and other public services.

The tax pledge has no flexibility. It’s all or nothing. The governor who makes that promise relinquishes his or her ability to make choices for the best interests of the state. Governor Martinez demonstrated that when she vetoed population control for dogs and cats.

It’s early in the general election campaign season. Pearce has plenty of opportunity to modify his position and show where he would be flexible. I hope he does that. If he doesn’t, voters might recognize that anyone who takes this pledge has promised his loyalty to outside interests and made himself incapable of responding to the needs of this state.

Meanwhile, however, we must note that at the federal level, we have a whole new raft of taxes. These taxes were intended for another purpose, changing the balance of international trade, but they could also bring in a lot of money. They are called tariffs. Being opposed to taxes is no longer the conservative position.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2018

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