This from John David Dyche in C-J:
State GOP's anti-tax stance endangers Kentucky's future
Republicans in the Kentucky General Assembly have conflated the concept of conservatism with opposition to any and all tax increases. This is unfortunate and incorrect. Properly understood, conservatism is an attitude of realistic prudence toward politics and society, not a rigid position on any single issue.
The most recent manifestation of this Republican misunderstanding is in the apparent opposition of every GOP representative and senator to an altogether sensible, and indeed much too modest, increase in the cigarette tax. Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, was right in saying that no legislator has articulated a good reason for this resistance.
Sen. Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, called the cigarette tax "bad policy" because as the tax went up, fewer people would buy cigarettes, thus decreasing revenue. But this argument ignores the benefits of both badly needed short-term revenues and long-term savings from the improved public health that reduced smoking would produce.
Funds from taxing a vice like smoking can be used to promote conservative social virtues. There is virtual consensus, for example, that expanded early childhood education would improve Kentucky in myriad ways. Yet for want of money too little is done in this regard and even existing educational programs are effectively cut.
How did the anti-tax talisman take hold of the state GOP? Perhaps when Louie Nunn never won again after raising the sales tax as governor. Or maybe in 2000 when U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell warned the state Senate's new Republican majority against raising taxes. Both these possible explanations reflect calculations of political power rather than good policy.
Yet conservative icon Ronald Reagan raised taxes as California governor and prospered politically. State Sen. David Williams, R-Burkesville, and then-state Rep. Anne Northup, R-Louisville, likewise thrived after they voted for a sales tax increase to finance education reform in 1990, as rare exceptions to the prevailing Republican rule.
Being anti-tax at the federal level is completely consistent with conservative, and constitutional, principles. The national government is supposed to be one of limited powers, but now grossly exceeds them. Its bloated bureaucracy poorly performs functions that under federalism, to which conservatives at least pay lip service, should be state responsibilities.
It is, therefore, perfectly consistent with conservative principles for one to advocate for smaller government and lower taxes in Washington, but at the same time support bigger government and higher taxes in Frankfort. Some, like state Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, nonetheless suggest that only ultra-liberals could back a budget containing a cigarette tax hike.
Not every proposed state tax and program merit conservative support, of course. Dumb taxes discourage desirable activities, like entrepreneurship and investment. But the cigarette tax literally discourages cancer and a plethora of other costly medical and social plagues.
One can also make a conservative case for expanded gambling, but it is admittedly more difficult. The best arguments are built upon conserving the state's signature equine industry. New gambling, maybe limited to slots, at tracks with some proceeds steered into purses would not extend gambling to new venues, but would produce revenue and help sustain a broad-based agricultural industry now suffering from intense multi-state competition.
Kentucky formerly featured more philosophical diversity among its Republican politicians. Many will argue that is the very reason why the GOP was so long in the minority. Perhaps aggressively pairing an inflexible anti-tax stance with fundamentalist Christian positions on social issues is the key to a renaissance of Republican political success.
But nothing in the conservative intellectual tradition requires any such linkage. And little, if anything, in Kentucky's quality of life or future prospects proves that the commonwealth is better off because of it.
This stagnant state is in desperate need of a new "third way" alternative to its current partisan political gridlock. Pragmatic Republicans with the courage to reclaim real conservatism from the misguided ideology that has consumed it can point the way.