Step one: Watch the following new television advertisement from the conservative super PAC Vermonters First.
Now, pop quiz: Asked Monday whether they support broadening Vermont's sales tax to cover not just goods but services rendered, the two major-party candidates running for governor provided the following answers.
Your mission? To guess which response came from Gov. Peter Shumlin, one of those "out-of-control" Democrats running Montpelier, and which came from Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin), the free-market savior running to replace him.
"I think the jury's still out on broadening the sales tax base," said Candidate A. "The key is what services are going to be included and what's the unintended consequences. We have taken zero testimony on that. And until I hear testimony, I'm not going to draw a conclusion."
"I have been a longtime opponent of the sales tax. I have watched the sales tax drive jobs and economic opportunities into New Hampshire along the eastern side of the state, and it's had a devastating impact on jobs and job growth," said Candidate B. "I have never been enthusiastic about expanding or raising the sales tax. I have always been against it."
Time's up! Pencils down.
Of course, by now you've caught on to my trickery — my little bait-and-switch antics.
The thoughtful, measured response from Candidate A — you can call it 'waffley' if you're a hater — comes from Brock, who weighed in on the subject Monday during a press conference he held in Williston to outline his economic plan. His point is this: Vermont needs to revamp its tax code. It needs to do so in a comprehensive manner that takes into account local property tax burden. And it needs to actually lower taxes — not use gimmicks to raise additional revenue.
The 'no way, Jose' response? That came from Shumlin, who will tell you a thousand times he hails from the Connecticut River town of Putney (east side, represent!), where he can pretty much smell those rascal New Hampshire-ites stealin' all our biz-nass with their no-sales-tax shenanigans. Shumlin said in a phone interview Monday that, while he doesn't issue veto threats, dude sure hates on this idea.
But wait! If not Shumlin, which devious Dems are trying to put out of business those everyday folks featured in the Vermonters First ad?
Four words, says Tayt Brooks, the super PAC's treasurer and consultant: House Speaker Shap Smith.
"Anytime you have the Speaker of the House who has a super-majority of one-party rule, anything they say at a press conference Vermonters need to take seriously," Brooks explains. "He was very clear this was an issue they would be looking at as far as expanding the sales tax to services."
Hard to dispute that, huh?
So what say you, ol' tax-and-spend Smith?
"He was right! It was a press conference right after the end of the session," Smith admits. "I went beyond my bland reputation."
So when are Smith and his super-majority, one-party-rule cronies going to ram the expanded sales tax down the throats of unsuspecting small business owners?
"I don't really think it's ready for prime time," Smith says of the idea he himself floated. "Philosophically, and probably from a policy perspective, it makes sense, but if you can't get a consensus around it, or at least start to generate a consensus, I don't think it's smart moving on it."
Consensus? What's the point of one-party rule if you have to wait around for stinkin' consensus?!
And what's this business about new taxes making sense "philosophically"?
"This is not my first rodeo," sayeth Brooks. "I have a hard time believing that would be the case."
"If you look at their record, their record of single-party rule in Montpelier is one of raising taxes," Brooks says. "Yes, they can say that, but I'm looking at what they've done ... Let's look at their record, and their recording dealing with taxes has been one of raising them."
OK. So let's get this straight: The Democrat who floated the idea now says he's not going to push it through the legislature. The Democrat with veto power says he hates the idea. The gubernatorial candidate who'd entertain the idea under certain conditions is a Republican. But the guy who made the TV ad in the first place is convinced the idea will turn into law because, well, Democrats simply love to raise taxes.
Which brings us to our parting words, brought to you today by Gov. Shumlin:
"I guess it seems somewhat amusing that in order to create an attack ad against Democrats, this group has to make things up and cite initiatives that never happened," the gov says. "I mean, if you're trying to condemn a legislative body, you might want to start with things they did — not things they didn't do."