After last week's election results, the pundits said that taxes are politically lethal. They mentioned New Jersey, and left it at that. This reflects a limited understanding of the role the tax issue played in the vote. It was not anathema; nor was opposition to tax increases a guarantee of election.
Yes, the sweeping victory for New Jersey Republicans is a reaction against the large tax increases Gov. Jim Fiorio pushed through last year. There is no denying their unpopularity. But they might have been more acceptable had they not been so sizable -- $2.8 billion, for a 25 percent rise in state revenue -- or if they had been handled differently. The tax bill was whipped through the legislature in less than three weeks. The public was not educated about the reasons for the increase -- a $1.3 billion deficit, a court decision requiring New Jersey to spend more to help poor school districts and a major program to provide property tax relief.
Kentucky had the second biggest increase in 1990, raising sales and income taxes substantially to support education. (Tax revenue went up 14 percent.) But last week voters there elected Lt. Gov. Brereton Jones as governor, a Democrat who was part of the administration that proposed the tax increases. And in the earlier primaries, which are key to the vote for the legislature because the Democrats hold huge majorities, more incumbents who had voted against new taxes were defeated than those who had voted for them.