The Magazine

A Tax-Cutting Democrat

Bill Richardson's New Mexico record.

Mar 5, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 24 • By JENNIFER RUBIN
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Perhaps not surprisingly, Richardson argues that this additional spending went to needed infrastructure and education improvements, and that he maintained a prudent surplus to prevent future liabilities. Defending his spending levels, Richardson says, "My budget plan reflects my vision for the state: Investing in priorities like quality teachers in the classroom, access to health care, and putting money in the pockets of working families. At the same time, I am proposing a fiscally responsible budget, leaving more than $560 million, or 10 percent of recurring appropriations, in reserve." Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist jokes that Richardson at least deserves "credit" for recognizing what few Democrats do: "Reduce the rates and then spend the money that comes in!"

Has Richardson abandoned his pro-growth and low-tax philosophy in lieu of traditional liberal tax-and-spend policies? His supporters say no and point to a 2007 agenda that includes a new working family tax credit, an acceleration of the income tax rate reductions, and a laundry list of new "targeted" tax cuts such as elimination of state income tax for active duty military personnel, tax cuts for investment management firms, tax credits for high tech investment and energy efficient offices and buildings, a one-month tax holiday for purchase of energy efficient appliances, and an "advanced coal incentive." Norquist complains that many of these tax cuts "are so directed as to become indistinguishable from subsidies and direct expenditures." To which Richardson responds that these tax cuts, like those in the past, have widespread economic benefit: "In New Mexico, we've used targeted tax cuts to create incentives for businesses to put people to work, to help middle class families, and cut the tax on food, among others."

Richardson seems to have something for everyone: tax cuts for conservatives and substantial spending for liberals. "The policies and initiatives that have worked here in my state can work across the nation," he says. "I have made economic development one of the cornerstones of my administration, and we have created close to 84,000 new jobs, balanced our budget, and we have the largest surplus in our state's history--$500 million."

Not everyone is impressed, however. Pete du Pont, former Republican governor of Delaware, acknowledges that Richardson is "on the right economic growth track." But du Pont adds that "the other essential ingredient to economic prosperity is to restrain the growth of government spending." Of course, for Democrats (and many Republicans), that may be asking too much.

Jennifer Rubin is an attorney in Virginia.