by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
Although no-new-tax pledge icon Grover Norquist speaks of a politician who betrays the Americans for Tax Reform tax pledge as a rat’s head in a bottle of Coke — an affront to the Republican brand and subject to corrective action — such strident rhetoric is not voiced by Taxpayers League of Minnesota President Phil Krinkie.
Indeed, unlike Americans for Tax Reform, which considers a pledge signer pledged for as long as that individual holds a given elective office, beginning last election the Taxpayers League shifted its policy away from
Norquist’s and now only expects its pledge signers to hold true to their pledge during their current term in office.
After that, the league hopes lawmakers “re-up” for another pledge if they run again.
Krinkie, a former lawmaker who has led the league since 2007, cites a number of reasons for the change.
“The first thing, we have no means other than going to the legislator’s constituents to hold them (legislators) accountable,” Krinkie said.
“(And) if someone is not willing to re-up, they’re not likely to support it (the pledge) anyway,” he said.
The taxpayers league’s 2011 roster of pledge signers includes 12 Republican state senators from a stable of 37, and 24 Republican state representatives from a stable of 72 ( see list of local legislators who signed below).
It currently lists no Democratic legislators.
This is not true of Norquist’s ledger of pledgers, which lists Minnesota state representatives Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, and Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth.
Marquart, who now advocates for tax increases, said he signed the Norquist pledge in his first run for office in 2000. It was a time of state budget surpluses and when he saw no need to raise taxes, he said.
“I thought it was for one term,” said Marquart of the longevity of the Americans for Tax Reform pledge. “I certainly do not feel bound by the pledge.”
For his part, Krinkie said he does not judge the success of the taxpayers league in terms of the size of its pledge roster. He points to the league’s legislative score cards — the league’s watchdog role — as another important function.
“On par, 2011 (legislative session), we consider that a success,” he said of Republicans deflecting Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed tax increase on the wealthy.
As for Norquist, the vast influence ascribed to him is misplaced, Krinkie said. “Grover Norquist doesn’t have the power; the people, the voters have the power,” he said.
Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton views the no new tax pledge as an effective tool in steering the tax debate. He argues the new crop of Republican lawmakers holding office now are people who genuinely believe the no new tax philosophy.
It wasn’t the pledge or the Republican Party that had them wearing pennies on their lapels earlier this year at the State Capitol, signifying not a penny more in state spending, Sutton explained.
And this belief, Sutton argues, is a reflection of the electorate who put these freshman Republicans into office.
As far as the taxpayers league limiting its pledge to a single term, Sutton doesn’t view the change as making that big of a difference. If legislator signs the no new tax pledge once, they’re more or less committed to it into the future, he said.
“In some respects, if you’re in, you’re in,” he said.
Gov. Mark Dayton views no new tax pledge politics as part of a larger troubling fiscal tend.
When people in the future look back on the previous decade, they’ll see “one of enormous fiscal irresponsibility, triggered in part by the pledge,” Dayton said. The pledge has played well with the public to some extent, Dayton concluded.
But the governor also views its impact as contributing to the federal government’s massive debt.
Krinkie’s no new tax approach is flexible. He views it acceptable to raise a tax if another tax is proportionally lowered, making the adjustment tax neutral.
“I think she’s absolutely right,” Krinkie said of Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign stance that all American taxpayers should pay at least something in federal taxes.
Bachmann, along with the rest of the Republican Minnesota Congressional Delegation — Kline, Paulsen, and Cravaack — have all signed the Norquist no new tax pledge.
Interview requests to Norquist elicited no response.
2011 Minnesota state legislators “Taxpayers Protection Pledge” signers from the Elk River area
•Sen. Dave Brown, R-Becker
•Sen. Mike Jungbauer, R-East Bethel
•Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton
•Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake