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December 8, 2003
Dean's Fiscal Conservatism: Fiction?

Jon at QandO has an excellent post deflating -- a bit -- the idea that Howard Dean is a tax-cutting conservative. He quotes from this Boston Globe article:

On the campaign's website, Dean is even more specific, saying that his two cuts reduced the state's top income tax rate from 13.5 percent to 9.5 percent.

But an examination of Dean's record as Vermont's governor has found that the bigger tax cut was in fact signed into law by his Republican predecessor, Richard Snelling. In 1991, Snelling signed legislation authorizing higher tax rates that would "sunset" two years later. Dean, then lieutenant governor, took over after Snelling died, and the rates dropped automatically at the end of 1993.

While the section of Dean's website on his fiscal record highlights his role in eliminating the sales tax on clothing items, it omits the fact that the overall sales tax was raised from 4 percent to 5 percent during Dean's tenure.

Governor Dean did sign in the second of the two tax cuts, which lowered the base rate to 9.5%, but I wonder if the added one percent on sales tax balanced that out. At any rate, Vermont residents are not convinced of Dean's "conservatism", even among Democrats. The Dean campaign referred the reporter to former state Senator and party leader Peter Shumlin, who had this to say:

"Factually, you are correct. He didn't have to sign a bill to sunset the income tax. But he had to sign a bill to keep the other ones up," said Shumlin in a reference to Dean's support for a hike in the sales tax.

Indeed, Shumlin said he is still angry with Dean for raising the sales tax, putting Vermont at a disadvantage with New Hampshire, with no sales tax. "I am still enraged," said Shumlin, who nonetheless is supporting Dean's candidacy. "If Howard Dean had agreed with the Democrats, we would have reduced the sales tax on the working poor and kept in place the high income tax on those who can afford it. It is the same argument he is making against [President] Bush, frankly."

Jon, in his post, mentions that Vermont is ranked 12th in state tax burden by the Tax Foundation. The article also states that Vermont residents pay 10.1% of their income in state and local taxes, which seems pretty high to me. Comparatively, New Hampshire residents pay 6.6%. For a family with an income of $50,000, this amounts to $1750 difference -- enough to put a down payment on a car, or a good chunk of money to save for college education for the kids.

Lastly, Dean makes a lot of noise about the supposed dishonesty of the Bush administration, and Bush's opponents have screeched with abandon every time they find an inconsistency from the White House, no matter how small or ridiculous it may seem (remember the "fake turkey" issue last week?). Here you have Governor Dean taking credit for a tax cut enacted by his predecessor simply because he didn't reverse it. Where's all the screeching from these lovers of pure, unadulterated truth now?

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 8, 2003 8:01 AM

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