Tuesday, August 18, 2009

RIP Robert Novak

Chicago Sun-Times political columnist Robert Novak succumbed to brain cancer today at the age of 78. The Joliet, Illinois native's career spanned more than five decades and included a stint covering the Indiana State House during the 1950s as a correspondent for AP. It's lucky for President Barack Obama and the Democrats that the hard-hitting conservative didn't survive long enough to cover the Obama years. There are few journalists of his caliber today who are up to that challenge. One of my favorite Indiana-related columns by Novak was one where he took to task Gov. Mitch Daniels for proposing an income tax increase on people making more than a $100,000. Here's a little of what he wrote of Daniels before he shelved the ill-conceived tax increase:

Until Jan. 18, nobody dreamed of comparing Bob Taft to Mitch Daniels. The Ohioan with the famous Republican name is despised in his own party as a tax increaser. In contrast, as President George W. Bush's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director, Daniels was a tax-cutting supply-side advocate.

But in his State of the State address Jan. 18, the newly inaugurated Daniels stunned Hoosiers by proposing a one-year increase in Indiana state income taxes from 3.4 percent to 4.4 percent for people making $100,000 or more a year.

It is difficult to exaggerate the surprise in Washington at Daniels's apostasy, linking him with Taft. If this veteran political hand takes the tax increase route out of his budgetary problems, does that suggest Republicans are toying with abandoning their stand against any federal tax hike -- party doctrine ever since the senior George Bush's politically disastrous 1991 increase? They are forgetting that higher taxes inevitably mean more, not less, spending . . .

Republican legislators accept the need for tax increases, but want to boost "sin" taxes (on cigarettes and alcohol). When a political ally privately asked Daniels why he was going the tax-the-rich route, he replied that Democrats could not now accuse him of balancing the budget on the backs of the poor. That amounts to avoiding criticism from the left by imitating it, a tactic used by the GOP in the past with calamitous results . . .

But many other Republican leaders oppose any tax increase of any kind at any time, for one reason. It was stated for me this week by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who was deputy to Daniels in the Reagan White House. "Raising taxes," said Barbour, "is the enemy of controlled spending." More revenue inevitably generates more government. Accordingly, Barbour has fought all tax hikes and intends to veto an increased tax on cigarettes if it passes the Legislature.

Daniels might well take Barbour's example to heart as more relevant than the four-to-one Hoosier support for taxing the rich shown by his polls. With such backing at home, Daniels is contemptuous of criticism from Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform and The Wall Street Journal.

"If I told you how little I care," he told me, "it would be hard to exaggerate." But the OMB director who faced down congressional big spenders might consider Haley Barbour's theory of how taxes impact spending.
If Novak were alive today, he could have easily been coaxed into writing a similar column taking to task Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard for breaking his pledge to voters and increasing taxes to bail out the Capital Improvement Board.

1 comment:

Seth M. Ward said...

Oh Bart, oh Bart, where for art thou Bart!?!