The Republic of T.

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Tax and Spend Conservatives, Pt. 2 – Mississippi

As I wrote earlier, a funny thing happened on the way to budget solvency in some pretty red states: It didn’t work. Budget cuts and austerity have left Texas in the red, and the legislature taking a hammer to the state’s piggy bank, with an eye toward spending some of its "Rainy Day Fund."

Mississippi is in a similar mess, and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is trying to find a way out of it, and toe the line of conservative economic orthodoxy. Too bad Barbour is failing miserably at both

Taxing in Mississippi

When he’s not defending slavery, revising civil rights history, breaking bread with white supremacists, or praising racist groups Haley Barbour actually does a bit of governing in Mississippi. And he has bigger ambitions, as indicated by his trip to Iowa last month.  Indeed, Barbour’s a contender for the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2012.

Conventional wisdom says Barbour’s aforementioned "past" may complicate a 2012 run. His raising taxes in Mississippi could further complicate a 2012 run. That is, if anyone notices.

Yes, I said "raising taxes in Mississippi." That’s what Barbour’s done. But, because of which taxes he raised and how he raised them, Mississippi isn’t any better off.

Last month, in an attack on President Obama, Barbour claimed on behalf of Mississippi, "By getting control of spending and growing our economy, we dug out of a $720 million budget hole in two years without raising anybody’s taxes."

Well, that depends on what the definition of "raising anybody’s taxes" is. Because Barbour raised taxes alright.

Andy Kroll fact-checked Barbour’s claim on taxes, and it turns out Barbour isn’t as anti-tax as he wants you to think he is.

In Chicago and elsewhere, this likely contender for the GOP’s 2012 presidential nomination paints himself as a classic anti-tax Republican. And he has regularly claimed that he balanced Mississippi’s budget without tax hikes. The reality is very different. Throughout his eight years as governor of what’s now the poorest state in the union, Barbour has raised taxes half a dozen times, on everything from cigarettes to businesses to care facilities for the mentally disabled. (A spokeswoman for Barbour declined to comment.) And in balancing Mississippi’s budget, he’s cut deep into essential public services, including public education, offering a glimpse of where a President Barbour might place the scalpel. "He continues to say he’s balanced the budget without raising taxes. It’s not just true," says Cecil Brown, a Democratic state representative in Mississippi. "But he thinks if he says things enough, they become true."

Kroll goes on to recount how a log Mississippi’s health care industry reveals the gap between reality and Barbour’s rhetoric.

  • In 2003, the state’s total tax on hospitals was $1.50 per bed per night, and $4 for nursing homes and facilities for the mentally handicapped. In 2004, Barbour raised state taxes on hospitals, by hiking the daily bed tax $6.
  • In 2005, Barbour signed a bill doubling that tax.
  • In 2009, Barbour signed a deal to raise taxes on Mississippi’s hospitals from $60 million to $90 million, to cover a $90 million shortfall caused by cuts in federal funding.
  • Barbour tried to impose a revenue tax in 2006, to make up for a $90 million shortfall, but the measure was rejected by the legislature.
  • In May 2009, Barbour signed into the first of two excise taxes on cigarettes, raising the rate from 18 cents to 60 cents per pack. In July, he levied a 25 cents-per-pack tax on cheaper cigarettes.
  • Buried in Barbour’s 2010 "Equity and Solvency Bill" was an increase on unemployment taxes — from $378 to $756 per worker — for businesses that lay off employees.

The hypocrisy is apparent. Barbour, despite his rhetoric, raised somebody’s taxes.

But hypocrisy, says Ezra Klein, isn’t the point. The point is what happens when you can’t raise taxes.

I don’t really care whether Barbour is a hypocrite. What’s interesting about this is that it’s a window into the sort of policies that Republican executives resort to when they decide that transparent, broad-based revenue measures such as income and sales taxes are off the table. Barbour, to keep people from noticing his tax hikes, ended up passing some fairly regressive, narrowly targeted, economically inefficient taxes. He still had to raise taxes, but he ended up doing a worse job of it. And as Kroll goes on to note, because you can’t raise all that much revenue by taxing hospital beds, Barbour had to make extremely deep cuts in public services such as education. Mississippi ranked 48th in Forbes magazine’s list of “best states for businesses and careers,” and Barbour’s decision to cut education funding by $520 million probably isn’t helping his state develop the sort of skilled workforce it needs to lift its position in those rankings. But it is helping him run for president. That’s not a great incentive structure.

Barbour, if he won the GOP nomination and — through some presently unimaginable set of circumstances — won the presidential election and brought the same policies to the White House, could make the rest of America a lot more like Mississippi.

Even without a White House win, or even a viable contender on the horizon, congressional Republicans seem bent on using similar policies to make America more like Texas.

Given how abysmally conservatisms economic agenda has worked out for these redest of "red state," why are conservatives so determined to stay "stuck on stupid"?

a person who cannot learn, a fool who repeats their mistakes time and again, a person who constantly screws up.

Answering that question requires at least one more post.

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