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Republicans Get Nasty In New Hampshire With Even Boots Fair Game

By Mark Niquette and Terrence Dopp, Bloomberg News (TNS)

New Hampshire voters watching television this week heard Marco Rubio’s allies call Chris Christie a scandal-plagued liberal. Jeb Bush’s backers told them that John Kasich isn’t presidential timber. Christie told a Rochester town-hall meeting that Bush isn’t prepared to be president and Kasich is nuts to question his conservatism.

“I’m not a heavy bag,” Christie told reporters. “You throw a punch at me, and I’m going to throw one back.”

Even Rubio’s boots came in for it, their stack heels mocked by Bush and Ted Cruz.

Republican presidential candidates who represent the so-called establishment have staked their campaigns on emerging in New Hampshire as the viable alternative to real-estate mogul Donald Trump. They’re in each other’s way as they appeal to the same voter pool with the nation’s first primary a mere five weeks away. Now, they must calibrate how hard they can attack without alienating voters, hurting themselves or helping someone else.

The result has been a rancorous minuet.

During events in Rochester, Manchester and Merrimack, Christie pitched himself as the race’s last adult and a battle-tested leader. He said his criticisms were only a response to rivals who are just beginning to focus on him.

“Why all of the sudden now, five weeks from Election Day, are they all taking about me?” Christie told reporters after his event at American Legion Post 7 in Rochester. “Because I’m connecting with voters.”

New Hampshire is often caricatured as a stronghold of Yankee probity, soberly vetting politicians on behalf of the rest of the U.S. Yet the Granite State has turned muddy, thanks to a spate of angry advertising.

A pro-Rubio super PAC on Tuesday started running two separate television ads attacking the New Jersey governor. One shows Christie alongside the president, calling him “Obama’s favorite Republican.” Another revives the George Washington Bridge revenge traffic-jam scandal in 2013 and brings up New Jersey’s paltry job growth.

Christie in turn criticized Rubio’s attendance in the Senate, where he has missed 13.3 percent of roll-call votes since January 2011, compared with the median 1.7 percent of current lawmakers, according to the GovTrack.us website.

Rubio, who is scheduled to arrive in New Hampshire on Thursday, should “just show up for work once in a while,” Christie said. “He’s only got one job.”

Christie hedged his bet amid the Republican-on-Republican verbal violence. He released an ad Wednesday responding to Rubio by saying, “Do not be fooled: any significant division within the Republican Party leads to the same awful result — Hillary Rodham Clinton in January of 2017 taking the oath of office as president of the United States.”

Bush and Kasich also skirted personal criticism even as their allies sent salvos across the airwaves.

Bush’s super PAC is airing an ad comparing the records of the three governors in the race and declaring Bush superior on job creation and leadership. Yet Bush refrained from mentioning his closest competitors during his first few stops this week, saving his criticism for Trump as someone “preying on people’s angst and their fears.”

Bush will continue distinguishing himself by telling voters why they should entrust him with the presidency, said Rich Killion, his New Hampshire state director.

“If the others want to get inside food fights, so be it,” Killion said.

Nonetheless, Bush couldn’t resist a jibe Tuesday when he was asked about swapping his cowboy boots for more snow-friendly shoes.

“They’re not high heeled,” Bush said, according to NBC News reporter Kasie Hunt. It was an apparent shot at the stylish footwear that Rubio has sported on the trail. Cruz’s campaign also mocked what it called Rubio’s “booties.”

The great heel debate of 2016 reflects the increasing stakes of a New Hampshire victory. A RealClearPolitics average of recent polls in New Hampshire has Trump leading at 27 percent, followed by Rubio, 13.8 percent; Cruz, 11.5 percent; Christie, 11.3 percent; Kasich, 10 percent; and Bush, 8.3 percent.

“It’s very difficult, as you can imagine, to attack multiple candidates at the same time,” said John Weaver, Kasich’s chief strategist, as he sat across from the governor on the campaign’s bus before a stop in Manchester.

Some voters would prefer they didn’t try. Dwight Haynes, 79, an independent, undecided voter at a Rand Paul rally in Concord, goes out of his way not to watch negative advertisements.

“I try my darnedest to avoid them,” he said. “I think they’re demonic. I wish there were no attacks.”

Sitting at the back of Kasich’s Manchester town-hall, Tom Rath, New Hampshire’s former attorney general, said negative attacks will have limited effect on voters.

“It’s hard to tell them something they don’t know,” Rath said in an interview. “Unless they found some extraordinary piece of information that invalidates them, I think people understand at the end of an election these things sort of happen.”

Waiting for Christie in Rochester on Tuesday, 66-year-old retiree Dave Curry said the timing of the new attacks is just about right.

“These are three very effective executive officers, and trying to point out their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses is actually doing voters a favor because with such a large field, no one really has time to do the candidate research,” Curry said.

In an interview on his campaign bus Tuesday, amid five straight days of campaigning in New Hampshire, Kasich said he won’t shy from defending himself.

“If I do well here, I’m going to be the nominee,” Kasich said. “If I don’t do well here and get buried somehow, it’ll be over.”

(Sahil Kapur contributed to this article.)

©2016 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks at a campaign town hall meeting in Merrimack, New Hampshire, January 3, 2016. REUTERS/Katherine Taylor

 

Rick Perry Tries To Break Out By Attacking Pretty Much Everybody

By Mark Niquette, Bloomberg News (TNS)

Lagging in the polls and unable to escape the shadow of Donald Trump, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry accused his Republican rivals over the weekend of being converts to conservatism.

Without mentioning names, Perry made an appeal to tea party activists at the annual meeting of the group founded by billionaires Charles and David Koch that he is an authentic conservative — with a record in Texas to back it up — while fellow governors in the Republican race have taken unpopular party positions or flip-flopped on issues including abortion and the Common Core education standards.

“My fellow Republicans, we don’t have to settle for 11th hour campaign conversions to conservatism,” Perry told the 3,600 attendees at Americans for Prosperity’s annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday. “I’ve been with you every step of the way.”

With Perry trying to keep his campaign afloat, the two-day “Defending the American Dream Summit” showcased the struggle of Republican candidates attempting to stand out from a crowded field dominated by Trump, while also offering a glimpse of the party’s challenge to satisfy its core conservative voters and still have broad enough appeal to win a general election.

In an impassioned speech, Perry said that while he won’t “trade freedom for federal money,” other governors have accepted Medicaid expansion under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul to bring federal dollars back to their states despite the national debt. Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio have accepted the expansion, but Perry’s most obvious target was Kasich.

“The idea that Washington has this federal pot of Ohio Medicaid money that would have gone to some other state is just nonsense,” Perry said. “That money doesn’t come from an endless vault of money in Washington. It is borrowed from bankers in China and children in Cleveland and Columbus.”

Perry also made an apparent jab at Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker when he said it should trouble voters when a candidate “says he’s pro-life but runs television ads saying abortion is a decision between a woman and her doctor.” Walker aired such an ad during his re-election campaign last year.

The Texas governor said to be wary when candidates “rail against Common Core on the campaign trail but supported it in the capital,” an apparent reference to the change in position by Christie and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in the face of strong conservative opposition.

Perry said while he’s the only candidate with experience defending the U.S. border from illegal immigration, other candidates “want to talk a good game on border security and offer simplistic solutions like, ‘Let’s build a wall.”‘

Perry, who was edged out by Kasich for the 10th and final spot in the first Republican presidential debate on Aug. 6 in Cleveland, reportedly stopped paying some of his campaign staff earlier this month because of a lack of funds. The former Texas governor stood at just 1 percent in a recent CNN poll of likely Republican Iowa caucus participants, prompting questions about whether he’ll make it to the Feb. 1 voting in the Hawkeye State.

On Saturday, Kasich’s campaign pushed back, saying that while Perry is criticizing using federal dollars to improve people’s health, he previously has defended taking billions of dollars under Obama’s federal stimulus program to fill state budget holes.

The Ohio governor was not invited to the Americans for Prosperity event in his own state, and it was clear from the forum that his support for Medicaid expansion and failure to pursue a so-called right-to-work law were among the reasons why.

President Tim Phillips called the expansion “immoral” during a speech on Friday, and one of the breakout sessions for activists was “Sick yet? Obamacare 2.0 — An Update on How Obamacare and its Medicaid Expansion is Affecting You.”

Another session was devoted to right-to-work laws, which Kasich has not sought while neighboring Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin have. Kasich has said there’s no need for it with labor peace in Ohio.

“There’s one major impediment to right to work in this state, and his name is Gov. John Kasich,” Vincent Vernuccio of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan said during a session, drawing a smattering of applause from activists.

Kasich has made the case that Republicans have allowed themselves to be “put in a box” on issues, and that he has the right to define what it means to be a conservative — including helping the disadvantaged.

That tension was on display at the summit, where Jindal, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also spoke. The network overseen by the Koch brothers has pledged to spend $889 million on its agenda during the 2016 election cycle.

Besides Perry’s call to support a conservative who hasn’t flip-flopped, Jindal made the case to the activists that the party won’t win by moving toward the political center. He singled out Bush.

“You may have heard Jeb Bush say that we’ve got to be willing to lose the primary in order to win the general election,” Jindal said, drawing boos. “That is the establishment telling us, ‘Conservatives hide your beliefs, hide your principles.”

While Bush defended his conservative record of cutting taxes and improving education during his two terms as governor, he also urged the party to broaden its base by reaching out to blacks, Latinos and “across the spectrum of life.”

“Conservatives will win when we campaign everywhere, when we campaign with heart,” Bush said in his speech on Friday, which drew mostly polite applause compared with the rousing reception that tea party favorite Cruz received.

(John McCormick contributed to this article.)

Republican U.S. presidential candidate and former Texas Governor Rick Perry participates in the Voters First Presidential Forum in Manchester, New Hampshire August 3, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

De Blasio’s Wisconsin Reception Shows Potency As Election Force

By Mark Niquette and Henry Goldman, Bloomberg News (TNS)

MILWAUKEE — New York Mayor Bill de Blasio attracted the biggest crowd to Wisconsin Democrats’ annual dinner on Saturday since Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama attended seven years ago. The foray to the home state of expected Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker shows de Blasio’s determination to affect the 2016 election.

“I’m certainly going to be doing this with some regularity,” de Blasio said after getting a standing ovation for his speech in Milwaukee.

The 53-year-old mayor has in recent weeks ventured from the most-populous U.S. city into the Midwest to inveigh against tax breaks for corporations, attacks on unions, and income inequality. He has withheld a quick endorsement of Democratic candidate Clinton, emphasizing his power as leader of a city of 8.4 million and ensuring that his intentions remain a topic of speculation and conversation.

De Blasio’s rise as the first Democratic New York mayor in 20 years and appeal to progressives can influence his party’s broad agenda while also being a thorn in the side of Republican candidates, said Mike Tate, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

“Outside of anyone named Obama or Clinton, I think Bill de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren are the two biggest draws in the Democratic Party,” said Tate, referring to the Massachusetts senator who also champions progressive issues. “People are really looking at what he did and what he is saying as a real path forward.”

De Blasio drew 360 people as keynote speaker at the $5,000- per-table fundraising dinner in Milwaukee, where Walker was a county executive before becoming governor in 2011.

The speech followed trips this month to Nebraska and Iowa, which holds the first presidential contest, to push progressive leaders to crystallize how they will fight income inequality and to make it an issue in elections at all levels.

After a jaunt to Washington in May to convene a group of mayors seeking a bill for transportation funding, the mayor said he expects to travel to California and other states where he’s invited and there are opportunities.

De Blasio said he’s trying to arrange a presidential forum in the fall where candidates of all parties would be invited as long as they come with specific proposals and policies for dealing with income inequality.

The mayor and other progressive leaders also are creating a new “contract with America,” a reference to the 1994 Republican set of limited-government proposals with the same name, to draw 2016 candidates to their agenda.

The policies include higher taxes on the rich, including elimination of preferential treatment that hedge-fund managers get on investment income, a push for early-child education, a $15 minimum wage, college scholarships, and job training.

“That does mean challenging people in my own party to come up with real solutions, and it certainly means challenging Republicans to reverse course on a lot of policies that have failed,” de Blasio told reporters in Milwaukee.

De Blasio in his speech chided Democrats for a “muddled message” in previous elections, while blistering Walker’s policies.

“I’m not saying Scott Walker set out to destroy Wisconsin’s middle class,” de Blasio said during his speech. “But if that were his mission, I can’t think of a damn thing he’d done differently.”

Julie Jansch, 62, a retired police evidence technician and president of a retiree local chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, drove 120 miles from Green Bay to hear de Blasio. Jansch said that while she didn’t know a lot about the New York mayor, she wants a voice “for the common man.”

While de Blasio advocates positions that resonate, he’s untested on the national scene, said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic strategist in Washington who was deputy campaign manager for presidential candidate John Kerry.

The mayor’s lack of an endorsement of Clinton, the presumptive front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, also has been a gamble. De Blasio managed Clinton’s successful 2000 bid to become a U.S. senator from New York and in 1997 he worked for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in her husband’s administration.

“What’s crucial is a vision, a very sharp, tangible vision of economic change,” de Blasio told reporters in Milwaukee when asked about Clinton. “I’m hopeful that we’ll hear that from her, but I think that’s what people are waiting for.”

The mayor’s non-endorsement took some Democrats by surprise.

“Bill de Blasio should have his head examined,” U.S. Representative Sean Maloney of upstate New York said in a radio interview. “I don’t understand why my friend Bill de Blasio would have any reservations about a person he worked for, about a champion for New York.”

By not immediately backing Clinton, de Blasio may boost his appeal as a critic of Walker and other Republicans, said Robert Shrum, a professor of politics at the University of Southern California who has advised Democratic presidential campaigns.

“A lot of people were scratching their head about why he didn’t endorse Hillary Clinton,” Shrum said. “But the truth is, not having endorsed her makes him a more credible critic, makes him more independent. He doesn’t look like a surrogate of the Clinton campaign.”

Photo: Mayor Bill de Blasio via Facebook

Kasich Pops Up In Places Vital To 2016 Race He Hasn’t Yet Joined

By Mark Niquette, Bloomberg News (TNS)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — While Ohio Governor John Kasich decides whether to run for president, he’s been to nine states to push for a federal balanced-budget amendment. He went to Washington, D.C., for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress. He’s off to New Hampshire and New York City next week.

Kasich, a Republican who ran for president in 2000, said he’s keeping his options open about the 2016 nomination. In the meantime, he’s staying in the conversation by advocating the amendment, touting what’s billed as “Ohio’s comeback model” and downplaying suggestions that he’s waiting too long to get serious.

“I appreciate what other people say, I appreciate all their advice, but, at the end of the day, I’m going to decide it when I decide to decide it,” Kasich said in a telephone interview.

Besides the states Kasich has visited seeking resolutions endorsing the amendment (26 of the necessary 34 have acted), he is traveling to Maine next week to meet with lawmakers. The governor also is touting his Ohio record in New Hampshire, site of the first primary. He’ll hit a tax-policy dinner at New York’s 21 Club, make an April speech to the Detroit Economic Club and visit South Carolina, an early primary state.

That grand tour is the bare minimum to keep his name in the mix, and Kasich can’t wait much longer to secure donors and campaign talent, said Charlie Cook, editor of the Cook Political Report in Washington. Cook said he considers him unlikely to run because of his “lackadaisical” approach.

“You can’t walk for president; you have to run,” Cook said. “Anybody who is serious about running for president had better be making very concrete moves right now.”

The governor said that while the ability to secure donations and build an organization would figure into a decision, he doesn’t think he’s “anywhere near” that.

“I’m not trying to play cat-and-mouse with anybody,” the governor said. “I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do.”

The governor said he’s been passionate about the amendment since his days in Congress, when he was chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee the last time spending was balanced, in the 1990s.

He’s also making the case that other states can copy his approach in Ohio, where after becoming governor in 2011 he cut income taxes even as he addressed a shortfall of about $8 billion. Kasich said last week that the state has recovered all the private-sector jobs it lost from the recession that ended in June 2009.

While some Republicans oppose Kasich’s decision to expand Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, they are receptive to his fiscal record and call to help “people in the
shadows,” said Steve Duprey, a national Republican committeeman from New Hampshire who was a senior adviser to Senator John McCain’s failed 2008 presidential bid.

The governor also won re-election last year with 64 percent of the vote in a swing state that voted for Obama twice. No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio.

If he ran, Kasich would compete among so-called establishment candidates such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and conservatives including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Cook said. Kasich also could be considered as a running mate, he said.

Kasich is running a “peek-a-boo” campaign that may work to his advantage, said Curt Steiner, a Republican consultant in Columbus. It doesn’t require him to criticize other candidates, doesn’t make him a target and keeps his options open.

“It’s basically a kind of strategy that allows for any choice to be made for a pretty long time,” Steiner said.

Kasich’s travel for amendment events, typically on a private jet, is being funded by Balanced Budget Forever, a Columbus nonprofit group started by friends and supporters that can raise unlimited sums of money and doesn’t publicly disclose its donors. The Ohio Republican Party is paying for the other travel, and two former Kasich staff members are handling the arrangements, Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said.

Kasich has barely registered in recent polls. He was the first choice of only 2 percent of New Hampshire Republican voters in a Bloomberg Politics/Saint Anselm New Hampshire survey in February and wasn’t even included in a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week.

Duprey, who is hosting a “Politics and Pies” event for Kasich in New Hampshire, said he needs to start making the case for himself.

“If he just comes up here and says, ‘Here’s what I’ve done in Ohio,’ people go, ‘Great, we had two people last week who came in and told us what they did.'”

Photo: Ohio Governor John Kasich is seen at the Atlantic hosted “Building the Future: Manufacturing’s Software Revolution” event on Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 in Norwood, OH. The governon addersses the audience in the Siemen’s motors manufacturing facility. (Siemens PLM Software via Flickr)

Wisconsin Passes Walker-Backed Labor Bill After Marathon Debate

By Mark Niquette, Bloomberg News (TNS)

The Wisconsin Assembly passed a labor bill that may bolster Governor Scott Walker’s presidential ambitions after more than 19 hours of debate punctuated by police escorting out protesters and Republican complaints about Democratic “derangement syndrome.”

Opponents spoke for more than ten of those hours on a motion they ultimately withdrew that would have referred the measure to a committee for yet more argument. They offered amendments that they knew wouldn’t be accepted. One lawmaker spoke in verse. Yet the outcome Friday was never in doubt after what Democratic Rep. Robb Kahl called “a really bad play with ugly actors.”

The Assembly granted final approval of the right-to-work bill that allows employees in union workplaces to opt out of dues and membership 62-35 along mostly party lines. Walker has said he will sign it Monday, making Wisconsin the 25th U.S. state to enact such a law, joining neighboring Iowa, Indiana and Michigan.

Democrats portrayed the bill as an effort to weaken unions while bolstering Walker’s appeal to Republicans he will need to win his party’s nomination in 2016 — including this weekend at an agricultural summit in Iowa. Republicans said it would free workers to choose, and would attract businesses.

“Right to work is simple for Wisconsin: It means being more competitive,” Republican Speaker Robin Vos said during debate. “When right to work passes, you are going to empower workers, you’re going to empower workplaces.”

The bill is an assault on Wisconsin’s legacy of fair collective bargaining, said Rep. Peter Barca, the Democratic leader.

“I can’t think of any policy, any policy, that’s more antithetical to Wisconsin values, to our very heritage,” Barca said.

Rep. Steve Doyle, a Democrat, gave his speech against the bill with rhymes based on the poem, “The Night Before Christmas.” It ended with: “We should all be at home, snuggled up in our beds, with thoughts of bipartisanship dancing in our heads. But as it sits now, there’s no end in sight. Unfortunately Mr. Speaker, it’s going to be a long night.”

Debate had just started Thursday when the Assembly’s speaker pro tempore ordered galleries cleared after protesters began chanting “right to work is wrong for Wisconsin.” Police escorted them out, but they could still be heard.

Democrats complained that the bill was being rushed through an extraordinary session to distract from criticism of Walker’s budget and to promote his presidential bid.

“It’s the workers in this state that are suffering through the politics of our governor’s ambitions,” said Democratic Representative Cory Mason.

Vos said Democrats have “Walker derangement syndrome” and were obfuscating the issue. He and other Republicans said unions would thrive if they serve their members.

“I would think that those workers, if they see that value and that value proposition, that they would continue to pay their union dues,” said Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, a Republican. “Are the unions afraid that the workers won’t see value?”

The right-to-work bill is unlikely to have a major economic impact, said William Jones, a historian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Organized labor has been in decline for three decades, he said.

Union membership in Wisconsin represented 11.7 percent of the work force in 2014, down from 17.8 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2011, as many as 100,000 pro-union protesters occupied the Capitol during a weeks-long standoff over Walker’s move to curb bargaining for public employees. Only about 300 rallied Thursday for the final Assembly debate, according to a police estimate.

Jeff Constance, 42, a union carpenter, took the day off to drive 325 miles from his home in Superior for the rally — even though it was clear the bill would pass.

“I’m hoping at the last minute they might actually look out the window and see this is not such a good idea,” Constance said at the rally. “All we can do is try.”

Photo: Light Brigading via Flickr

Tax Increases Much-Regretted Necessity For Republican Governors

By Mark Niquette, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Republican governors meeting in Washington this weekend said financial conditions in their states have deteriorated so much that they must raise taxes, even if it means crossing their own party.

In the face of a historical antipathy deepened by the Tea Party movement, chief executives in Alabama, Nevada and Michigan among other states are proposing increases this year to address shortfalls or to spend more on faltering schools and infrastructure. They advocate higher levies on businesses, tobacco, alcohol and gasoline, in some cases casting the increases as user fees.

The governors are at a crossroads. They are choosing between the path of Governor Sam Brownback in Kansas, who has refused to change course even after tax cuts provoked furious opposition, and that of Alabama’s Robert Bentley, who has said the state’s perennially precarious budget has reached the breaking point.

“I don’t want to raise taxes, but I also know that we need to pay our debts,” Bentley said in an interview. “We don’t have any choice.”

Governors in about ten states, many led by Republicans, are proposing increases this year, said Brian Sigritz, director of state fiscal studies for the National Association of State Budget Officers in Washington. Several plans involve raising fuel taxes to pay for crumbling roads and bridges, while Republicans including John Kasich in Ohio and Maine’s Paul LePage want higher sales or other levies to offset income-tax cuts. The burden of such taxes falls more heavily on the poor, who spend a larger proportion of their income.

In Nevada, two-term Republican Governor Brian Sandoval has proposed $1.1 billion in new or continued business, tobacco and other taxes to pay for education and initiatives such as expanding full-day kindergarten.

He said he has no choice with a shortfall caused by declining mining and gambling revenue, as well as a need to spend more on an education system that has the worst high-school graduation rate in the U.S.

His proposal has drawn opposition from Republican officials such as Treasurer Dan Schwartz, who said voters rejected two similar proposals in November and that Sandoval has “divorced” himself from state Republicans.

Sandoval said there are Republicans who support his plan, and that business leaders want better-educated workers.

“I knew going in that I was going to receive criticism,” Sandoval said in an interview. “That’s why it’s important for me to explain the ‘why,’ and the ‘why’ is to improve education in Nevada.”

Alabama’s Bentley, a two-term Republican, said he spent four years cutting spending, improving efficiency and making government smaller. Now, more revenue is needed to deliver services and deal with a long-building budget deficit of about $265 million that could reach $700 million by the fiscal year that begins in October.

Bentley said that while he’s still formulating his plan, it won’t involve gambling revenue and will include multiple taxes that the Republican-controlled legislature can approve.

Alabama has a history of opposing tax increases and rejected former Republican Governor Bob Riley’s $1.2 billion plan in 2003. Bentley said he expects backlash this time as well.

“But we’re going to do it with boldness, and this is something that we must do,” he said.

States are feeling pressure to pay for projects and services cut or delayed during the recession that ended in June 2009 and the sluggish recovery, said Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, which analyzes how fiscal decisions affect the poor.

“Governors of both political parties are faced with those neglected investments,” Leachman said.

The prospects for enacting the proposals are unclear, especially after Republicans extended control of legislatures to 31 states in last year’s elections and now have majorities in a record 69 of 99 chambers.

In Ohio, Republican lawmakers have said that while they welcome Kasich’s plan to cut income taxes, they oppose “tax shifting” to do it.

An exception may be efforts to raise fuel taxes to pay for infrastructure. The purchasing power of levies that haven’t increased in years has declined, roads and bridges are visibly deteriorating, federal funding is uncertain and the political climate may be more forgiving thanks to cheaper gasoline.

More than a dozen states, many with Republican governors, appear poised to increase transportation revenue this year, said Sean Slone, program manager for transportation policy at the Council of State Governments in Lexington, Kentucky.

Republican Governor Terry Branstad in Iowa said he’s not raising taxes. Rather, he’s backing a higher “user fee” to address a $215 million shortfall in annual transportation funding without borrowing, he said.

“I’m an anti-tax person as well,” Branstad said. “People who get the benefits of the roads should pay for it.”

Other Republicans at the National Governors Association meeting held the traditional ground that raising taxes shouldn’t be an option.

“This economy is in a delicate state, and the last thing it needs is higher taxes,” said Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a potential presidential candidate in 2016.

The White House ambitions of Republican governors including Chris Christie in New Jersey and Scott Walker in Wisconsin may make raising taxes a gamble no matter what the state’s financial condition.

Christie has put a Democrat in charge of transportation spending and said he was open to all options for replenishing a road fund that has gone dry. He didn’t mention the crisis in a speech last week that railed against taxes.

Walker has ignored proposals from his transportation secretary to raise taxes and fees in favor of borrowing $1.3 billion. He also has said he will skip more than $100 million in debt payments to address a $283 million deficit after tax cuts.

In Kansas, Brownback is slowing his push to eliminate the income levy and calling for higher tobacco and liquor taxes because the state faces a $280 million shortfall after previous tax cuts produced greater revenue losses than anticipated. Still, he has said that the state will stay the course.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, raised taxes to help close a $3.6 billion deficit after taking office in January 2011 and was criticized by Christie and other Republicans for doing so.

Malloy said that while he chafed at the barbs, he’s not celebrating now that some Republicans are in position of having to raise levies.

“In a super-politicized environment — and certainly we have suffered in one of those during this post Great Recession period — some people thought it would never happen to them,” Malloy said in an interview. “They were wrong.”
___
With assistance from Terrence Dopp in Washington.

Photo: Governor Beshear via Flickr