Grover Norquist urges legislators to support Nikki Haley’s tax trade-off

Gov. Nikki Haley

COLUMBIA — Grover Norquist, the primary promoter of politicians pledging not to raise taxes, is urging South Carolina lawmakers to support Gov. Nikki Haley’s roads plan that includes a cut in the state’s income tax.

The president of Americans for Tax Reform wrote in a letter sent to lawmakers and posted on the organization’s website that it is “imperative” South Carolina’s legislators use the 2015 session to cut the state’s income tax or risk placing the Palmetto State at a disadvantage when compared with its neighboring states.

“South Carolinians have been hit with over 20 federal tax increases in recent years; the last thing they need is another tax increase at the state level,” Norquist wrote. “Americans for Tax Reform will continue to follow these issues closely throughout session and will be educating your constituents as to how you vote on these important matters.”

Norquist added any gas tax increase must be coupled with lowering the income tax. Otherwise, lawmakers would simply be voting for higher taxes.

Haley’s proposal aims to raise the tax on gasoline by 10 cents a gallon over three years while reducing the state income tax from 7 percent to 5 percent over 10 years. It also calls for the restructuring the Department of Transportation.

Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, said he respects Norquist, but that a proposal by a House ad hoc committee also has merit; it calls for reducing the state’s 16.75-cent-per-gallon gas tax while increasing the sales tax on gasoline at the wholesale level to raise funding for improving and maintaining the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.

“It’s clear that (Norquist) is trying to assist Gov. Haley in moving her plan forward,” Merrill said. “But at the same time, Rep. (Gary) Simrill and the committee that (House) Speaker (Jay) Lucas put together have been working on this for a long time as well.”

Norquist is the nation’s most prominent anti-tax-increase activist. More than 20 House members have signed his organization’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” in the past, including Lucas, R-Hartsville, House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, and Merrill.

Gibbs Knotts, a political science professor at the College of Charleston, said letters like Norquist’s are a reminder of how politicians are under pressure to toe the party line. He added that signing no-tax-increase pledges are never a good idea because circumstances change.

“I think it’s just adding to these extreme positions,” Knotts said. “It’s definitely hardball politics that kind of keep Republicans in line with the most conservative wing of the party.”

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.