Thursday, February 09, 2006

Blog by Blackwell

The hot topic around the ‘sphere this week has been J. Ken Blackwell’s blog on the new PD Open Mike page. A number of bloggers tried to drum up controversy, saying it was an illegal campaign contribution. I tend to agree with High & Broad that it isn’t. I haven’t bothered looking up election law because the PeeDee has a stable of well-paid lawyers to do so. Unless they serve high-strength Stoopid Flakes in the employee’s lunchroom, it’s highly unlikely Open Mike represents the clear violation of elections laws some have claimed. In the latest development, George at BFD notes that the PD has posted a schedule of which candidates will blog when.

Personally, I’m glad Blackwell blogged this week. He got into the spirit of the thing, with far more freewheeling posts than campaign CW will generally allow. And that’s a good thing, because now we can pick through what he has said.

Curiously, no one has done much of that. Jill asked him a couple of questions which he then answered. Someone somewhere asked some pertinent questions about his lease-the-turnpike proposal, and now I can't find it. But that's about it.

I’m hoping to get more in-depth with some actual research, but we can start by pointing out some breathtakingly disingenuous rhetoric, some out and out distortions, a couple of borderline fibs.

Reading Blackwell is something of a time warp. It’s 1979, all is bleak and all can be laid at the feet of tax-and-spend Democrats. We’re in a nationwide malaise and it’s all the fault of the other party.

But of course, this isn’t 1979. It is 2006, going on ten years since Democrats controlled anything in the state. The economy is moribund with no end in sight. We are in statewide malaise, all the fault of, apparently, Republicans who aren’t Republican enough. Given Blackwell’s professed love for Reagan, it’s not surprising that he’s running a Reagan-style campaign, but I didn’t realize until watching this race how much Reaganism required a foil.

Blackwell’s solution to everything is tax cuts and spending cuts: TEL amendment, slash personal income tax and “reform” business taxes. Here’s where we get into some less than honest dealing. Take this snippet:

I fought Bob Taft’s 20% sales tax increase and his CAT tax increase (a new tax on gross receipts).
Let’s take each of these. The “20% tax increase” is from Blackwell’s Greatest Hits and is a good example of how to mislead with statistics. A person reading that line, with no knowledge of the history, would think the tax rate went up 20% -- from say 5% to 25%. In fact, the “20%” is the percentage increase in the tax rate. The tax rate went from 5% to 6% -- what most people would call an increase of one percent.

Even more misleading is the reference to Taft’s CAT tax “increase.” A reader knowing nothing of the last budget cycle would think that Taft raised the overall tax burden on business by slapping the CAT tax on everything else. In fact this past spring the General Assembly eliminated two entire classes of business tax – personal property taxes and corporate franchise taxes (the latter was Ohio’s version of corporate income tax) – and replaced the latter with the Corporate Activities Tax. While no one is sure precisely what CAT revenues will look like, projections from both sides of the aisle showed an overall drop in business tax revenue. (Rather than find a discrete link for each of the points above, I'll just direct you to this page of the Ohio Department of Taxation website.)

All of which brings us to the most questionable statement in the blog – the point at which Blackwell, what’s the word, disassembles?
Without spending reform, we can’t have tax reform.

Imagine a Democratic politician in 2000 saying “with Republicans in control, Congress cannot pass Federal education reform legislation.” That would be an opinion. A wrong one, as it turns out. Now imagine the same politician saying the same thing today. What do you call that? Like it or not, the No Child Left Behind Act was comprehensive Federal education reform passed by a Republican Congress. Hypothetical 2 is just a lie.

And so is Blackwell’s statement. The General Assembly passed sweeping, once-in-a-generation corporate tax reform last year, without spending reform as defined by Blackwell. He may want more reform – his proposal to eliminate the CAT would mean Ohio would have essentially no corporate taxes – but saying that tax reform can’t happen without his precious TEL simply isn’t true. If he doesn't believe Republicans can commit tax reform without him, he should read this piece in the Columbus Dispatch about how school districts are scrambling to replace revenues from the now extinct personal business property taxes.

It’s understandable that Blackwell would want to run against Bob Taft, universally reviled as he is. But it’s bizarre that he refuses to acknowledge the legislative accomplishments of his Republican Party. But then, it makes sense when you look at the state his party has put Ohio in. He knows he can’t acknowledge that his platform is a more intense version of what has come before. If a teaspoon of medicine almost kills the patient, he won’t be persuaded to take a tablespoon next time.

In the end, Blackwell sounds less like the heir to Reagan and more like one of those sad Reagan-era Marxists who dismissed the repression in Communist bloc countries because those places never really tried Marxism.


Jill said...

Thanks for this analysis, Pho.