Be careful about the promises you make.
That's good advice for everyone but particularly good advice for politicians tempted to impress voters by signing a no-tax pledge. Those pesky pledges can often be unwieldy yokes around the necks of public officials.
The Minnesota Taxpayers League is one of the organizations that pushes such pledges and its success in getting a passel of legislators to oppose any tax increases in the last Minnesota legislative session was one of the major reasons why no transportation funding bill was approved this year.
The failure to pass a transportation funding bill came despite considerable support from the business community for needed transportation improvements. Many supporters of transportation funding pointed out the state's gas tax hasn't been raised since 1988 and congestion and heavy use had taken its toll on state roads.
Lawmakers who signed the no-tax pledge backed themselves into a corner in the last legislative session. Once they signed the pledge they knew that potential opponents would figuratively beat them over the head with any policy reversal if they reneged on the promise. The result was a legislative stalemate and no transportation bill.
The Minnesota Taxpayers League has every right to ask candidates to sign a no-tax pledge but with sizable deficits looming over state government and all of the easy fund-shifting options done this year, one wonders if it's really wise for political leaders to hamstring themselves with such a promise?
If candidates feel strongly that Minnesota's taxes should not be raised under any circumstances then they probably should make a no-tax pledge.
However, the state's economic plight can change drastically three or four years into the next governor's administration. Few business leaders would make an iron-clad pledge to a certain financial course of action when there are so many unknown variables.
Minnesotans elect lawmakers and governors to exercise their best judgment and follow their convictions. If they tie themselves into ideological straitjackets just to get elected they may be doing themselves and their constituents more harm than good.
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