op-ed

A letter to Grover Norquist

Andy Stern Senior Fellow, Richman Center at Columbia University, and Former President of the SEIU
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To read Grover Norquist’s response, click here.

Dear Grover,

I know both today, Tax Day, and April 12th, Tax Freedom Day, are serious days of reflection and worship for you and your devotees. In honor of this special time of year, I wished to use the moment to bring to your attention information that might prove to be helpful in your quest to shrink government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub,” by proposing that governors, federal, and state elected officials consider the following addition to the current “transformative” Taxpayer Protection Pledge:

I, ____________, pledge to the taxpayers
of the State of ____________ that
I will not take more federal funding
than our state pays in federal taxes.

Why now and why a new pledge? Because Tax Day is the perfect occasion to highlight disturbing research by Clark Merrefield, recently published in The Daily Beast, on the amount each state pays in federal taxes in comparison to the amount of federal spending in the state. And as Jonathan Alter of Newsweek has noted about the Americans for Tax Reform’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, “it has transformed American politics.”

I respect and appreciate the mission, although not always the approach, of the Americans for Tax Reform’s Center for Fiscal Accountability: “…to shed light on government expenditures, and to promote transparency, accountability, and restraint in government finance.” As such, I am trying to shed light and promote action on this important information.

Ironically and presciently, Grover, you nailed it quite clearly, forcefully, and specifically exactly one year ago, Tax Day 2010, when you said, “We don’t have our hands in our neighbors’ pockets. We don’t ask the government to put their hands in our neighbors’ pockets and bring it back to us.”

Yet The Daily Beast research shows that the federal government has created a new form of “welfare” by putting their hands in the pockets of taxpayers in many “blue states” to redistribute to their neighbors in mostly “red states.”

It is fair for hard-working, tax-paying Americans and elected officials in every state to expect to see returned, in the long run, a reasonably proportionate share of their federal tax payments, as a part of a fiscally responsible federal budget. But I assume that this premise must be consistent with the insistence by you, your supporters, and Congressman Ryan on putting an end to deficit spending, additional government stimulus, and “bailing out” of the states.

So I can only imagine how mortified you must have been to learn that Governors Haley Barbour, of Mississippi (whose citizens received $2.83 in federal spending for every dollar of federal taxes paid), and Nikki Haley, of South Carolina ($2.13), have their hands in the pockets of the citizens in the “blue states” of New York ($0.79), Illinois ($0.79), Connecticut ($0.74), New Jersey ($0.62), Minnesota ($0.54), and Delaware ($0.40) who receive the lowest proportionate return of government spending on their federal taxes paid.

These “blue states” have seen their excess tax payments — co-mingled with spending paid for by federal borrowing — used to substantially subsidize many of their “red” neighbors including, not just Mississippi and South Carolina, but also ex-Governor Palin’s Alaska ($2.24), Senator Shelby’s Alabama ($2.21), and Senator Paul’s Kentucky ($1.96).

Of the top 25 states ranked in terms of the ratio of federal benefits received to federal taxes paid, 16 voted for John McCain in 2008. It seems a little inconsistent that politicians from these states pose as passionate critics of federal spending while receiving so much federal “welfare” partially funded by the generosity of their “neighbors” in 11 “blue” states, of 14 states total, which pay more in federal taxes than they receive in federal funding.

While Congressman Paul Ryan’s Road Map has become the Republicans’ treasure map to “lift the debt burdens that are mounting every day because of Washington’s reckless spending,” these “fiscally conservative” states taking more than their share of government spending are undermining those noble goals. Perhaps it is time for Mississippi and other “red states” to rethink their approach to government and consider other measures than living off the tax dollars of their “neighbors,” and increasing the debt burdens of our country.

It, therefore, seems not only appropriate, but principled for the governors, state and federal elected officials from states now receiving the benefit of a big-government, debt-financed, “socialistic” redistribution of federal tax dollars to support the values of Americans for Tax Reform and the “The Path to Prosperity” by ending their “pork-barrel,” “earmark-laden,” “free-rider,” “debt-financed spending.” As Congressman Ryan says, it is time the government “stops spending money the government doesn’t have, and lifts the crushing burden of debt.”

It will take this type of selfless leadership to demonstrate that those who constantly criticize the “out-of-control” federal spending are prepared to sacrifice in the name of the greater good.

Thank you for your consideration, and Happy Tax Day!

Sincerely yours,

Andy Stern
Senior Fellow,
Georgetown Public Policy Institute

Co-signed by future taxpayer: Joseph Cox

P. S. As for other possible joint projects, I think the recent proposal of the Republican Study Committee to hold non-defense discretionary spending to FY 06 levels for the rest of this ten-year budget window opens up the possibility for both of us to demand that Congressional salaries by reduced to 2006 levels and remain frozen for the rest of the ten-year budget window as well.

Andy Stern is a Senior Fellow at Georgetown University, former President of SEIU, and a Presidential appointee on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

Andy Stern