A History Of The Pledge

The following was contributed by Jacob Hale Russell.

Next month, Granite Staters will vote on a state constitutional amendment that would ban any new income tax. It’s well known that New Hampshire is a rare hold-out in having no broad-based income or sales tax (Alaska, rich in oil reserves, is the only other state with neither), but how did we get that way?

“Around the big-bellied stove of the country store in a New Hampshire town men sit and growl about taxes,” the Boston Globe wrote in 1930. They could have been talking about almost any of the past hundred years: it turns out the state has come close many times over the past century to adopting a sales or income tax. Politicians — and not just Democrats — predicted, proposed, praised and nearly passed broad-based tax bills in the 1930s, 1960s, 1970s, and even the 2000s.

The “Pledge” — the promise most prospective governors make to veto a sales or income tax — today seems like a fixture of New Hampshire politics. Actually, it’s been around since the 1950s, and became popular in the 1970s. Since then, “it’s become gospel on the Republican side,” says Dante Scala, associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire.

That’s made it hard for candidates to raise the issue in campaigns — even though opinion polls suggest there’s actually no clear majority in favor of any tax issue (with some residents supporting a sales tax, some an income tax, and others no tax at all). By bundling support for either a sales or an income tax into a single “pro-tax” moniker, backers of the Pledge have successfully moved the likelihood of a broad-based tax from “implausible to nearly impossible,” Scala says.

Here’s a timeline of New Hampshire’s flirtation with taxes since income taxes began to take hold in the early 20th century.

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