Senate candidate Mo Brooks wants to be seen as a “proven conservative,” especially on fiscal matters.
But actual proof suggests the opposite.
On his 2010 congressional campaign website, the Huntsville Republican makes an audacious claim: to have “vigorously fought tax increases as an Alabama legislator, a Madison County Commissioner, and a citizen.”
Brooks even goes as far as to link to a pair of signed pledges: Taxpayers Protection Pledge — Americans for Tax Reform and the No Climate Tax Pledge — Americans for Prosperity, both promoting strict anti-tax promises.
In his Senate campaign, Brooks continues to carry the fiscal responsibility banner, railing against Congress’ attempts to change the Affordable Care Act by calling it a “Republican Welfare Program.”
And Brooks tells Alabama Today he is running “because America needs an ethical, principled conservative who has the intellect and backbone to face and defeat America’s challenges.”
As he faces an uphill climb in Alabama’s Aug. 15 GOP primary — solidly third in most recent polling — Brooks’ boasts recall the old saying: “”The best predictor of future behavior is … Past behavior.”
With that in mind, a closer examination of his Alabama voting record — particularly on the county and state levels — shows his anti-tax rhetoric does not tell the complete story.
For more than a decade, Brooks represented District 5 of the Madison County Commission, from 2000 to 2011, before winning the first of four terms in the U.S. House.
During that time, the Huntsville Republican amassed a considerable history of supporting tax and fee increases on local constituents, a record that seems to contradict later campaign promises and his membership in the House Freedom Caucus, a group that emerged from the 2008-2010 Tea Party wave.
Tea Party, for those who may have forgotten, stands for “Taxed Enough Already,” a grassroots movement set up under the principle of fiscal responsibility and actively resisting government taxation in most forms.
In his time in public service — in the Madison County Commission, and before that, an earlier stint in the Alabama House — Brooks “represented” Alabama taxpayers by way of several (successful and attempted) tax and fee raises.
Prominent examples include September 1997, when, as Madison County Commission water department liaison, Brooks supported a $6.50 monthly per-household increase in the county’s water rate, something Huntsville Times business reporter Mike Salinero questioned in “Who Will Pay for Soaring Water Use in Thirsty County?”
Later, as a Madison County commissioner, Brooks approved a 2006 Tax Increment Financing (TIF) measure that would borrow money to fund construction projects, which, the Huntsville Times reported at the time, would have to be paid with “anticipated increased property taxes.”
Also in 2006, Commissioner Brooks voted to raise property taxes, followed by another proposal to raise property taxes and other tax increases just one year later.
He did the same thing in 2008, again calling for increased property taxes.
The following year, the Huntsville Times strongly criticized a Brooks’ proposal — one that would blanch a present-day fiscal conservative.
This time, Brooks again argued that the “only way” to pay for needed school construction was through higher property taxes.
As an alternative, Brooks offered several possibilities for raising revenue in Madison County — all of them distasteful to anti-tax proponents: increases in property and sales taxes, as well as a state measure to lift caps on the amount of property tax levied for Madison County schools.
Madison County Board Member John Ehinger panned Brooks’ tax-and-spend pitch, writing in a March 2007 Huntsville Times op-ed that while they “are real enough … none of them is workable.”
“If local schools need more money to build and renovate facilities, is there an alternative to the proposed half-cent countywide sales tax?” Ehinger wrote. “Well, it depends. Solutions to problems generally fall into two categories: the theoretical and the practical. Theoretical solutions might do a better job in some instances, provided you can put them in place. The theoretical solutions to the financial needs of the three local school systems, some of which were outlined last week by County Commissioner Mo Brooks, are real enough, but none of them is workable.”
Finally, in 2009, Brooks wanted folks to pay more in garbage fees, voting for a $13.50-a-month garbage fee increase in Madison County.
Nevertheless, this laundry list of Brooks’ tax-happiness goes even further back, including his days in the Alabama House, where he served from 1982-92 — often landing on the same side as Democrat George Wallace, who served his final term as Alabama Governor from 1983-87.
Most notably, Brooks tried to seek voter approval for increasing income taxes on Alabama families and businesses (by as much as 20 percent) during the House Regular Sessions in 1983, 1984, 1987 and 1988.
In those days, Brooks championed a wide range of tax and fee increases, everything from annual fees on natural gas meters, a liquor tax hike, a “tax crackdown” bill, privilege taxes on dog racing, allowing city and county school boards to levy sales taxes, a gasohol tax hike, raising hunting and fishing fees, and raising cigarette taxes.
In 1983, the Alabama House passed a bill that to levy a “50-cent annual fee on every natural gas meter in the state,” as reported by The Associated Press’ Phillip Rawls in “House OKs Gas Meter Fees.”
That same Session, lawmakers passed a bill sending “additional mark ups’” (taxing, just by another name) on liquor to Alabama’s General Fund — something that observers at the time believed would raise liquor prices across the board.
Alabama’s “Journal of The House” shows Brooks voting “Yea.”
Brooks also voted for a Gov. Wallace’s “Tax Crackdown” measure, aggressively going after delinquent Alabama Taxpayers. H 13, considered during the state’s Fourth Extraordinary Session that year, was titled: “Increase Revenue and Promote Compliance with The Tax Laws by Providing the Means for A More Effective And Efficient Enforcement Of Said Tax Laws.”
Records show that Brooks voted for both the House and conference versions of the crackdown bill.
In 1984, while Brooks opposed a bill that would legalize dog racing in Alabama, House records show that he put forth six amendments in debate that would have raised what is known as a “privilege tax” from one to 7 percent. That Session, he also voted “Yea” for a pair of bills to put constitutional amendments on the ballot to hike Alabama taxes.
And the list goes on … A “Generation-Skipping Transfer” tax (1988) … Broadening taxes on mobile homes (1989) … Spiking fees to bury hazardous waste (1990).
Indeed, while Brooks has a long political career, it is one that appears worlds away from a “proven conservative record” of anti-tax measures he touted in both his congressional and Senate campaigns — unusual coming from a member of the House Freedom Caucus.
Highlights of Brooks’ long, sordid history of tax increases can be seen here: