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As Governor, Romney Balanced Budget By Hiking Fees

National Public Radio | by Chris Arnold | December 14, 2011

When it comes to taxes, the field of Republican presidential candidates is unified: Keep them low and certainly don't raise them.

In both his runs for the White House, Mitt Romney has hewed to this Republican line. But whether he cut or actually raised taxes as governor of Massachusetts is a subject for debate.

All politicians like to talk about cutting taxes. But at the state level during tough economic times, many end up cutting spending while raising taxes because they have to balance their budgets.

In 2003, when Romney became governor of Massachusetts, the cash-strapped state was going through a budget squeeze of its own. So did the Republican governor react by raising taxes?

Romney's current answer as a contender for the Republican presidential nomination is clear. "Nope. I don't believe in raising taxes. And as governor I cut taxes 19 times and didn't raise taxes," he said during a GOP presidential debate on Fox News this summer.

But is that true?

Tax Holidays

He put together a plan which included major spending cuts and significant tax and fee increases, which is the only thing he or any other governor could have really done. I mean, there's no magic here.

Mike Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, tells NPR that Romney raised state revenues more than he cut them. Widmer says most of those 19 tax cuts Romney talks about were pretty modest. Some were weekend sales tax holidays.

"He raised corporate taxes. He also raised fees very dramatically in his first year," said Widmer.

Widmer's foundation is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that attempts to truth-squad policies that cost taxpayers money. He remembers eight years ago when Romney came into office facing a huge budget deficit.

"He put together a plan which included major spending cuts and significant tax and fee increases, which is the only thing he or any other governor could have really done," said Widmer. "I mean, there's no magic here."

Widmer says Romney didn't raise the state income tax. Instead he raised state fees.

A $3 Billion Shortfall

Romney hasn't talked about those fees much in recent debates. But back when he ran for president four years ago, he defended his fee hikes at CNN's 2008 Republican presidential debate.

"We had a $3 billion budget shortfall," Romney explained.

"We decided we were not going to raise taxes, and we found that some fees hadn't been raised in as many as 20 years. These were not broad-based fees for things like getting your driver's license or your license plate for your car, but instead something like the cost of a sign on the interstate and how much it was going to cost to publish a McDonald's or a Burger King sign on the interstate. We went from, like, $200 a sign to $2,000 a sign," said Romney.

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