Higher Taxes in Vermont Make Shumlin Suicidal — But Not in New Jersey | Off Message

Higher Taxes in Vermont Make Shumlin Suicidal — But Not in New Jersey



How much does Gov. Peter Shumlin hate on the Vermont House's tax bill?

So much so that he'd rather kill himself than sign it. 

No, seriously. That's how he put it Wednesday when asked at his weekly press conference by Vermont Public Radio's Kirk Carapezza, "Exactly how much do you not like it?"

"Exactly very much," Shumlin responded.

"Can you give us an analogy?" Carapezza pressed, surely looking for that perfect soundbite for this evening's local All Things Considered newscast.

"Sure," Shumlin said, pausing for a moment. "If you told me that I had to jump from a window, I would go for the highest building that I could possibly find to jump to make sure that I wasn't here to see that tax package become law."

As we noted in this week's Fair Game, Shumlin's, um, strong distaste for the House's proposed $23 million tax increase stems from his longstanding desire to avoid raising so-called "broad-based" taxes. 

Shumlin elaborated on that distaste during Wednesday's Statehouse press conference, saying, "I do not believe we should raise income taxes on hardworking Vermonters, sales taxes on hardworking Vermonters and meals taxes on hardworking Vermonters. And the irony is, we don't need to! This is entirely unnecessary in my judgment."

He also pushed back on the notion that the House's tax plan is more progressive than his own, though theirs includes an income tax increase on high-income Vermonters, while his mostly hits low-income taxpayers.

"As I've mentioned before, Vermont already has a very progressive income tax," he said. "You know, we ask right now a very small portion of taxpayers — I'd be happy to show you the chart — to pay... a huge chunk of Vermont's income tax."

But if you keep gouging the rich, he argued, you'll end up with fewer and fewer wealthy people to tax.

"We know that Vermonters already migrate to Florida, New Hampshire and other states to avoid paying income taxes. The higher your rates, the more they migrate," he said. "You can deny it if you wish, but income taxes are portable. We're asking the wealthiest to pay the most. That's what we should do, but you can't ask them to pay twice. You just can't. Because they won't."

That argument provided quite the opening for the Vermont Press Bureau's Peter Hirschfeld to note that Shumlin had sung quite a different tune on the matter in a recent interview with a New Jersey newspaper.

In his capacity as chairman of the partisan Democratic Governor's Association, Shumlin criticized New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in a February interview with The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., for opposing legislation that would raise taxes on wealthy Garden State residents. 

"The middle class is getting kicked in the teeth in New Jersey," Shumlin told the paper. "(Christie) vetoes income tax increases for the millionaires and billionaires and tells the middle class they have to pay more."

At last week's press conference, Green Mountain Daily's John Walters questioned the governor on why he was more comfortable raising taxes on high-income New Jerseyites than he was on high-income Vermonters, but Shumlin dodged the question.

This week, Hirschfeld picked up the mantle, wondering why it was okay to criticize Christie and then "come up here and say that any income tax increase on these people is verboten — off the table?"

"I was encouraging Chris Christie to go to the high progressive income tax rates that Vermont has right now," Shumlin responded.

Walters then jumped in, noting that New Jersey's top effective tax rate on high earners is actually already higher than Vermont's.

"Yeah, but you're talking about averages," Shumlin said, before segueing into his anti-Christie talking points.

"Can you understand the confusion, though, when you're criticizing him down there and you're saying another thing up here?" Hirschfeld countered.

"That is not true," the governor responded, looking a little peeved. "I mentioned property taxes. I mentioned jobs in my comments to the Ledger. I mentioned all the things I just mentioned now. You're picking one little piece out of an overall criticism of a four-year record, and I believe I'm right and the Democratic Governors Association joins me in believing I'm right that we think we can elect a governor that'll grow jobs, grow opportunities — not see the property tax increase, not see jobs dwindle. That's the point on Chris Christie."

Asked if he was contesting that "one little piece," Shumlin made clear he was done with the line of inquiry.

"Team, sometimes I think I'm on a comedy show. I've answered the question," he said. "As you know, I firmly believe that Chris Christie isn't the right governor for New Jersey because he's not growing jobs, he's not growing economic opportunities. Property taxes are rising and the middle class is getting kicked in the teeth."

At that, Shumlin's spokeswoman, Sue Allen, called out, "Thank you!" from the back of the room, indicating that this week's comedy show was ready to roll the credits.