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Bill Adair
By Bill Adair December 26, 2007

He supported tax hikes to balance budget

For months, the antitax group Club for Growth has been targeting Mike Huckabee for supporting tax hikes when he was governor of Arkansas. With just a week before the January 2008 Iowa caucuses, the group has bought $175,000 in air time for an ad that tries to use Huckabee's own words against him.

The ad begins with images of Democratic congressional leaders and says that "to stop massive tax hikes, conservatives have to be united. But listen to Mike Huckabee, when he was Arkansas governor ..."

It cuts to Huckabee giving a speech to the Arkansas Legislature in May 2003:

"There's a lot of support for a tax at the wholesale level for tobacco, and that's fine with me. I will very happily sign that. Others have suggested a surcharge on the income tax. That's acceptable; I'm fine with that," he says.

"Others have suggested perhaps a sales tax. That's fine. Yet others have suggested a hybrid that would collect some monies from any one or a combination of those various ideas, and if that's the plan that the House and Senate agree upon, then you will have nothing but my profound thanks."

Words on the screen say "As governor, Mike Huckabee supported higher income taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes, grocery taxes, tobacco taxes, beer taxes, Internet taxes, nursing home bed taxes."

The video has been cited by many Huckabee critics and was even used last week in a parody of Huckabee's Christmas ad. (It showed Huckabee in a red sweater in front of a Christmas tree, offering to raise taxes.)

We have addressed some of the Club's attacks on Huckabee with our previous article "Taking stock of 'Tax-hike Mike,' " so here we will focus on the TV ad.

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To understand Huckabee's comments, it's important to include the context for his speech. He delivered the remarks during a 2003 special session that was called to balance the state's budget in the face of a projected shortfall of more than $60-million. Lawmakers were divided over how to make up the shortfall; some wanted to use tobacco taxes while others preferred increases to income or sales taxes.

Huckabee said in the speech that the state had already cut $380-million from the budget and that tax increases were inevitable to pay for vital state services.

"We're no longer talking about merely shaving some excess. We're talking about amputating valuable and vital limbs, if we don't come up with necessary funding to meet the needs of those who depend on it," Huckabee said.

In the clip, Huckabee is trying to address the lack of consensus in the Legislature by indicating his willingness to be flexible and consider different types of tax increases.

But the Club for Growth ad lacks that context. It uses 40 seconds of Huckabee's speech to suggest he supports "massive tax hikes."

The Huckabee campaign has said he had little choice but to support a tax increase because Arkansas state law requires a balanced budget. "Unable to resort to deficit spending – as other candidates are able to do – the Arkansas Legislature was forced to raise taxes to pay for infrastructure repair, conservation efforts, court-mandated education expenditures, and unfunded federal mandates," his campaign said Dec. 26, 2007, in a statement.

As for the specific taxes cited in the ad, the Club is correct that Huckabee supported increases in income taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes, tobacco taxes, Internet taxes and nursing home bed taxes. He also opposed the repeal of grocery and beer taxes, which the the Club says indicates he supported "higher taxes."

Overall, we find the Club for Growth ad to be technically correct because Huckabee did support the tax hikes cited or opposed repeals of the others. But the ad is misleading because it takes his comments out of context given the financial crisis he was dealing with in Arkansas and the mandate to balance the budget. And so we find the Club's claim to be Half True.

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