Taxes and voters

November 13, 1991

Elections breed tea-leaf readers, but their pronouncements don't come with guarantees. Produced quickly for "instant analysis," they often don't bear up under close scrutiny. Take the "lesson" that last week's election results offered further proof that voters simply won't accept new taxes or candidates who advocate them.

As Steven D. Gold argues in the adjoining space, a tax revolt did indeed seem to spur New Jersey voters. But they were reacting to a specific situation -- a large tax increase that was rushed through the legislature without an adequate public education campaign to show voters why the state needed the funds.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, voters elevated their lieutenant governor to the governorship, even though the administration in which he served proposed and passed large tax increases, primarily to support education. Moreover, in that state's primary elections more incumbent legislators who opposed the increases went down to defeat than did supporters of the bills.

No one likes taxes. But voters aren't stupid. If they are given sound reasons for taxes and reasonable assurances that their money is being spent wisely, they are likely to support them. It's worth remembering that the American Revolution began not as a rebellion against taxes per se, but as a protest against taxation without representation. In today's terms, that same urge still runs strong. Yes, you can tax us, voters seem to say. But you better tell us why -- and you better not waste our money.

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