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PolitiFact Georgia switched on its Flip-O-Meter recently to discover Gov. Nathan Deal flip-flopped on his commitment to oppose tax increases.
Now Deal is countering.
During his campaign for governor, Deal signed a pledge created by the anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform saying that he "will oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes."
Two years later, the fiscal conservative is backing a tax referendum that would raise $7.2 billion for road and transit projects, and as much as $8.5 billion after inflation, to build transportation projects across metro Atlanta.
Full Flop, we ruled. Days after our story was published, Deal denied that he violated the pledge.
The pledge "relates to new taxes that were going to be initiated by legislative action," Deal told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Political Insider blog Wednesday.
This argument drew our attention. One of the reasons we gave Deal a Full Flop was that Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform, said for our June 8 article that "it does violate the pledge."
"It’s a rather significant tax increase," Norquist said.
Who’s right? Did the pledge Deal signed cover only "new taxes that were going to be initiated by legislative action?"
Sounds like a job for the Truth-O-Meter.
Deal, the leader of state government, has been open about his support for the proposed 10-year, 1 percent sales tax -- also know as the T-SPLOST -- that would fund 157 transportation projects across the Atlanta region. Voters decide on the measure July 31.
The governor says the projects are needed to ease traffic congestion in metro Atlanta and will help attract and keep businesses throughout the state. Deal has spoken at a Buckhead fundraiser for the referendum and voiced his support to several large audiences in recent months, such as at the Atlanta Press Club, the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and at an event in Savannah.
The Washington-based Americans for Tax Reform believes any new legislation or changes to an existing tax structure that results in a new tax increase on individuals is a violation of the pledge by lawmakers who have signed it.
Thanks to the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, ATR has become a major player in Republican Party politics. More than half the members of the U.S. House of Representatives have signed the federal version of the pledge, and nearly half the U.S. Senate has joined them.
But the pledge is strict, and even self-avowed fiscal conservatives are starting to break ranks.
Just last week, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, said lawmakers should be able to use money the federal government saves by eliminating tax loopholes to pay down the national debt.
"We’re so far in debt that if you don’t give up some ideological ground, the country sinks," Graham said in an ABC-Yahoo interview.
On the state level, there’s transportation tax supporter Amos Amerson, a Republican who is leaving the House of Representatives after 12 years. He decided the pledge isn’t always practical and asked in a 2002 letter to be removed from ATR’s list. Amerson said he never received a response.
There are two versions of the pledge: one for federal politicians and another for the state level.
The federal pledge asks signers to oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal tax rate on individuals and oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions or tax credits "unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing taxes."
The state version is brief. Politicians fill in the blanks of a single-sentence pledge:
"I ____ pledge to the taxpayers of the state of ____ that I will oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes."
It makes no mention of taxes that are initiated by legislative action. Or anything else, for that matter.
Deal signed the state version May 10, 2010, during his campaign for governor.
Our Flip-O-Meter ruling quoted Deal spokesman Brian Robinson, who said it was unfair to say the governor flip-flopped on his commitment to oppose tax increases.
But Deal earned a Full Flop just the same. The T-SPLOST is an increase in the sales tax. There are no cuts to make it revenue-neutral.
Now, back to our Truth-O-Meter check.
After our story ran, the AJC’s Political Insider blog reported Deal said he has an out because the pledge "relates to new taxes that were going to be initiated by legislative action."
How does he fare?
The governor’s office declined to comment for this fact-check, so we used some of Deal’s comments to reporters Wednesday to allow him to explain himself.
"I am advocating for it because this is not a legislatively imposed tax," he said. "It is a tax increase that the people themselves will decide about. And for those who say otherwise, it seems to me that they would take away the right of the people to express their opinions of this importance."
ATR’s state government affairs manager, Joshua Culling, told us that Deal is wrong about his interpretation of what he signed.
"The governor’s pledge is to ‘oppose and veto’ all taxes," Culling said. "By vocally supporting T-SPLOST, he certainly isn’t holding up the first half of his commitment."
ATR knows the meaning of the pledge better than anyone. It says Deal is wrong about his interpretation. We agree. Our rating: False.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Political Insider, "Nathan Deal: ‘I never pledged away my first amendment rights,’ " June 13, 2012
PolitiFact Georgia, "Deal's support for T-SPLOST veers from tax pledge," June 8, 2012
Email from Joshua Culling, state government affairs manager, Americans for Tax Reform, June 14, 2012
ABC News, "Republicans Take Aim at Pillar of GOP Tax Policy," June 12, 2012
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