The Ugly World of Grover G. Norquist

The Thinker by Rodin

Grover G. Norquist is the founder of Americans for Tax Reform. He has made it his mission to radically reduce the size of governments. Norquist is not talking about cutting a little fat here and there. The cuts Norquist is talking about would make even a die hard Libertarian blanch. He wants to shrink government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” (2000). He also actually said the same year:

Cutting the government in half in one generation is both an ambitious and reasonable goal. If we work hard we will accomplish this and more by 2025. Then the conservative movement can set a new goal. I have a recommendation: To cut government in half again by 2050.“(2000)

So it should be no surprise that Virginia has come under into his scope. And of course he has to take dead aim. From today’s Washington Post I learned:

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist has begun mailing to Virginia residents a “Least Wanted” poster that features the state lawmakers who voted for a $1.5 billion tax increase during the 2004 General Assembly session. The poster and an accompanying letter urge the ouster of the representatives in the next election.

In Norquist’s book if there is anything worse than Democrats raising taxes then it is Republicans raising taxes. Earlier this year the Virginia legislature (currently dominated by Republicans) modestly raised taxes. The sales tax in Virginia, one of the lowest in the country, went up half a percent for most goods. Our tax on cigarettes, the lowest in the nation, went from 2.5 cents per pack to a still extremely modest 20 cents a pack. A few other minor tax increases also were enacted into law. I was one of the many people shocked that our Republican legislature agreed to the tax increases. But I was not shocked in a bad way. I was shocked that our Republican legislature actually did the right thing.

Since the economy went sour Virginia had been on increasingly precarious fiscal ropes. It spent its surplus pretty quickly. It either denied teachers raises altogether or gave them tiny increases that didn’t keep up with the cost of living. Funds for new road building pretty much dried up. Even funds to keep the roads we currently have maintained were reduced. Tuitions at our public universities went through the roof. But despite all this obvious pain and the fact that the dollars could simply not stretch anymore to cover even basic services, I still bet that our legislature would forego tax increases. After all many of our newest members had come into office decrying even the idea of a tax increase.

But unlike the Federal government there was no printing press the Commonwealth could use to crank out new money. With its accounts in precarious positions and projected deficits looking increasingly ominous in 2004 our legislature finally figured it out. Apparently money doesn’t grow on trees. Apparently if we want to fund services we actually have to pay the market cost for them. And apparently the citizens of the Commonwealth consider such things as roads, prisons, public safety and education to be essentials of state government, not frills. The cuts had become tangible and painful. Even here in Fairfax County state cuts to education caused real problems. Classroom sizes increased. With raises given out in such a miserly fashion our teachers were shopping around in other, better funded school districts. Vitally needed plans to widen highways like I-66 were dropped. The pain of budget cuts, abstract to many taxpayers, became quite tangible. And sufficient numbers of us pressured our legislature to take the obvious steps needed to fund basic services.

So some Republicans did a very brave thing: they voted in the best interest of the state instead of their own short-term interests. They looked at the growing red ink, weighed the likelihood of an economic recovery and modestly ($1.3 billion in all – hardly more than what my county spends on its school budget in one year) raised taxes. You could hear the sighs of relief across the Commonwealth. As the Washington Post also reported most people did not even notice the tax increases. It felt as painless as it was.

Such genuine bravery by our Republican colleagues though must have really raised the hair on the back of Norquist’s neck. Now he and oxymoronically named Virginia Club for Growth are busy sending out their mailings of Virginia’s Least Wanted politicians. They want these Republican scalps. They feel badly burned.

Never mind that business leaders across the state, who know true growth from a faux growth, were the first ones to call for the tax increase. Businesses don’t like to pay taxes anymore than the rest of us. But they also know that a good, sound economic infrastructure doesn’t just happen. It requires mutual collaboration between businesses and government. If the roads are not there then their employees are wasting hours in traffic instead of working. And their deliverymen are squandering corporate money burning hydrocarbons in stop and go traffic instead of efficiently delivering the goods. And they know that if the schools near their businesses are not top notch then the top tier employees they need are going to try to work some place where they are.

Norquist and his minions see none of this obvious synergy. Their mission has nothing to do with reality: it’s all about ideology. They feel that taxes are too high, government is too big and they don’t like it. With their meat cleaver like approach they simply don’t give a damn about whom they hurt. If we have to release half the people in our prisons to cut the government size in half, so be it. If public education has to go down the tubes, it’s not a problem. They apparently feel that mothers should home school their kids anyhow, or parents should place their children in private schools. At its root this so-called “Club for Growth” it’s all about rampant, Ayn Randish “objectivism” selfishness.

They don’t care about the detritus that would result from their actions. They just want the money. Never mind that if the world were ordered they way they want then when they need to be hospitalized that there likely wouldn’t be enough nurses around to take care of them. Here’s a clue Norquist: if people can’t get a basic education then they won’t be positioned to go into nursing school. Instead they’ll be living on the margins, probably in poverty and filth. And amazingly roads don’t build or maintain themselves. The companies that maintain the roads actually demand to be reasonably compensated.

I have seen your ideal future. I found it in the Philippines in 1987. It is a society with almost no middle class. There are the rich (few in number) and there are the voluminous poor. Without the tax base to support it there are few constraints against businesses or people. So they throw their raw sewage into the rivers. They drive around in dilapidated cars, if they can afford them at all, spewing unfiltered exhaust into the air. Without a public education system their children don’t end up in parochial schools. Instead, the children run around on the streets getting into petty crime and grubbing for money. Survival for a woman often means surrendering her body to strangers for pesos. Survival in general there means markedly lower life expectancies, polluted air, polluted waters, long hours of work, and little likelihood of moving out of poverty.

This is the kind of state and country I would live in if you and your friends had your way. It would be an uglier, more divided, more crime ridden and thoroughly awful sort of place. The fact that we don’t have this society is because after thousands of years of trying it and realizing the noble-serf thing didn’t work, we became enlightened. We chose to be a civilized society and give more of our money in the form of taxes, not just to maintain a common infrastructure, but also to ensure that every person has an equal opportunity at life. And because ordinary people do have an equal chance we have a vibrant economy and a generally healthy, happy and prosperous society. Progressive taxation has been a win for everyone, even you and your Club for Growth. Without this government directed progress that you disdain you would most likely be scraping by for a living, not pressing for insane and radical cuts to our government.

Thankfully Virginians are becoming enlightened again. But you are not. You and your kind have devolved into some sort of bizarre medieval groupthink. When I see a brave people like Virginia State Senator John Chichester speak out for modest tax increases — simply to ensure that Virginia stays a state with some class — I feel more inclined to vote such Republican. Why? Because I vote for politicians who are grounded in the real world. You are not in the real world. You inhabit some sort of bizarre fantasy universe. I expect that when campaigns start again in earnest I will be doing something unusual: sending money to my Republican friends in the state legislature who showed genuine courage and leadership in voting for needed tax increases. Any self-serving twit like you can act in their myopic self-interest. But increasingly Virginians see you and your kind as part of the lunatic fringe. Thankfully we have a tradition of fiscal responsibility in our state. I don’t think that we’re going to let you and your kind devolve us into another Louisiana or Alabama.