RGA hits Dalton with tax claim

A new ad by the RGA suggests Walter Dalton is campaigning on a pledge to raise the sales tax.

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Walter Dalton
Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — The Republican Governor's Association is on the air with a new 30-second spot criticizing Walter Dalton's tax policies. Dalton, a Democrat, is running against Republican Pat McCrory.

A spokesman for the RGA characterizes distribution of the ad as "a major statewide buy" but would not say how much they're spending or how many gross rating points they're buying.  

The ad stars small business owners talking about the state's sour economy.

"Bev Perdue and Walter Dalton just did not get the job done," says one of the business owners. The next says, "Now Walter Dalton is pushing Perdue's 15 percent sales tax increase."  

The ad asserts that a 15 percent tax increase would cost 8,000 jobs, which is a claim we have taken issue with before. 

It also seeks to link Dalton to incumbent Gov. Bev Perdue. This has been an argument throughout the campaign. While Dalton and Perdue are both Democrats, they are separately elected and the constitution requires little cooperation between the two. 

But the biggest quibble Dalton has with this commercial is the line: "Now Walter Dalton is pushing Perdue's 15 percent sales tax increase."

It is absolutely right to say that Dalton supported Perdue's call for a 3/4-cent sales tax increase in the 2012-13 budget. Like Perdue, Dalton argued that the Republican-authored budget cut too deeply in K-12 education and the university system. Republicans point out they actually increased state spending on public education, although overall spending dipped because of changes to federal funding. 

That argument aside, Dalton has said repeatedly that he would not propose a sales tax increase as part of his budget if elected to be governor. He argues the state's economy, and therefore tax collections, will recover enough to expand funding for education as he proposes. 

"Moving forward, this is about what Walter Dalton would do as governor," said Dalton spokesman Schorr Johnson. "He has committed to no sales tax increase in his first two year budget." Johnson's comments are backed up by Dalton's own remarks on the stump and by his written economic plan.

So is the ad wrong? Dalton isn't currently calling for a sales tax increase. His commitment not to do so has been reported by multiple outlets.  

It would be completely fair to say that Dalton has supported tax increases, including a proposal to raise the sales tax by three-quarters of a cent this year. And that's what the RGA does in a news release that accompanies the commercial's release.

“Again and again, Walter Dalton has supported raising taxes during his political career, and his high-tax approach is costing North Carolina jobs,” RGA communications director Mike Schrimpf said.  “North Carolina’s comeback begins by turning away from the job-crushing policies of Walter Dalton, who has helped lead the tax-and-spend crowd in Raleigh for more than a decade."

But this commercial gives viewers the idea that Dalton is actively calling for that increase right now, and that is misleading. Whether that has a "for-it-before-he-was-against-it" vibe is something for voters to decide, but this commercial doesn't give them that chance. 

Update: I asked Schrimpf to respond to the gap between what his ad says and what Dalton is saying on the campaign trail. He e-mailed the following: 
"Even when trying to spin his support of the tax, Walter Dalton never rejected his desire to see the sales tax increased. In fact, he made clear that he supports the sales tax hike, and he would enact it if he could. He campaigned for most of this year on supporting the sales tax hike. When he tried to shift attention away from his support of the tax hike, he continued to defend the tax hike proposal while actually going one step farther by refusing to rule out additional tax hikes if he won the governor’s race. Trailing in the polls and with less than 40 days until the election, it’s understandable that Walter Dalton is changing his rhetoric, but his record is clear: he supports the tax hike."

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