In League With Big Government

John Berthoud The League of Women Voters (LWV) tries to portray itself as an ideologically-neutral, "good government" group. And for the most part, its public relations efforts have succeeded, as many Americans associate the group with Presidential debates and efforts to expand political participation.

But just beneath this respectable veneer, the League -- and its state and local chapters -- has become an active lobbyist for a very liberal political agenda. This fall, state and local League chapters all over the country will be weighing in on the side of bigger government and higher taxes.

In Alabama, voters will decide on the largest tax increase in state history, through a September 9th referendum. The state LWV chapter and over a half dozen local chapters have linked arms with the teacher unions and other pro-spending lobbies to advocate for the $1.2 billion tax hike. An econometric study by the the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University found that the tax plan supported by the League would have disastrous economic consequences, costing 8,267 jobs and leading to a $1.22 billion drop in state personal income. Apparently, the League's vision of "good government" means bad times for everyone else.

The Kansas League of Women Voters has also issued a call for increased taxes. The Kansas LWV justifies advocacy of more revenues by claiming that "the state has not provided adequate funding for education" -- this despite the fact that Kansas educational spending is at an all-time high. The Kansas LWV has been pushing for higher sales taxes, personal income taxes, and corporate income taxes. But the higher taxes aren't for budget balance, they're for more spending, which the Kansas League promotes through participation in groups such as the Public Assistance Coalition of Kansas.

In Colorado, the League has been a leading force in fighting against the very tax and expenditure limitations on state government that voters (women included) enacted at the ballot box. Lorie Young, the President of the Colorado LWV blames the tight fiscal conditions in the state on Colorado's TABOR amendment, which puts affordable limits on the growth of revenues and spending, and requires voter approval for tax increases.

Actually, Ms. Young and the Colorado LWV have it exactly backwards. TABOR helped hold the line on spending excesses during the 1990s. So unlike many other states, which created massive new programs during the past decade, Colorado's budget problems of the past couple of years have been relatively modest. As Colorado Governor Bill Owens notes, "Because we have not engaged in excessive spending as seen in other states, Colorado is far better positioned to weather these tough economic times and to rebound stronger than ever." Indeed, in a new study by the Tax Foundation, Colorado currently ranks as having the fourth best state business tax climate in the nation.

In California, the League has joined a coalition of liberal groups opposing the Racial Privacy Ballot initiative, which would block government from collecting data on Californians' race or ethnicity. The Massachusetts League of Women Voters is part of a coalition of 80 big government groups advocating for a socialist single-payer health care system in the state.

But advocacy of higher taxes and massive increases in the size of government isn't the sole province of state and local affiliates. The League of Women Voters of the United States champions an enormous expansion of government at the federal level. The National Taxpayers Union Foundation -- using the database of our BillTally program -- conducted a line-by-line cost accounting of the League's legislative agenda as presented in its National Program, and found that if the League's political wish list were enacted in its entirety, federal spending would soar by $870 billion per year. That represents a 40% increase in the size of the federal government.

The LWV's National Board has stated that the League "believes that democratic government depends upon the informed and active participation of its citizens." If the League really believes in the importance of an informed citizenry, it should drop the pretense of simply being a neutral forum-setter and forthrightly state that it is one of America's leading lobbyists for very, very big government.

John Berthoud is President of the National Taxpayers Union.

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