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The Nation

March 8, 2011

Anti-tax pledge directs budget debates nationwide

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The governor of Wisconsin has signed it. So have most of the Republicans in California's Legislature.

As state lawmakers grapple with how to address massive budget deficits, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist is leaving his fingerprints on legislatures across the country. His pledge against taxes is embraced by conservatives and reviled by liberals and some moderates.

In states as varied as Georgia, Arizona and California, Norquist has intervened at critical times to issue a warning or offer his critical stamp of approval to Republican lawmakers.

To many conservatives, signing the anti-tax pledge has become a badge of honor. To others, it's a shield that gives Republican lawmakers an easy out from working toward compromise or making difficult decisions about tax increases or reforms.

Norquist is president of the Washington, D.C.-based group Americans for Tax Reform and has become a flashpoint in the debate over how best to address states' budget deficits, whether he likes it or not.

"I'm not a player in this," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "The promise they made is to the citizens ... specifically their district. So if a Democrat legislator says that I or Americans for Tax Reform are stopping any tax increase, they're lying."

His pledge is simple, but powerful. Lawmakers who sign it promise to "oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes."

More than 1,200 Republicans nationwide have signed it. In California, those Republicans say it's a symbol of their commitment to spend the people's money wisely.

But to Democrats and those who opt not to sign, the promise gets in the way of the vigorous debate and compromise that are at the heart of democracy.

This year alone, Norquist's group has weighed in on legislation in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Georgia and Nevada, while praising Michigan's governor for a budget plan that would cut taxes. Norquist called Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has sought to end most aspects of collective bargaining for public employee unions — "the next Chris Christie" — a reference to the New Jersey governor and rising GOP star.

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