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Posted at 1:45 PM ET, 01/14/2008

Mitt's Memory Lapse

By Michael Dobbs

Arriving in Detroit, Jan. 13, 2008.

"Governor Romney says he supports the [auto] industry, yet when he was running for the governor of another state he wanted to raise the tax on SUVs."
--John McCain, campaigning in Michigan, Jan. 13, 2008.

"Absolute nonsense...Senator McCain has abandoned the facts for his own brand of hypocrisy."
--Romney spokesman Kevin Madden, responding to McCain, Washington Post, Jan. 14. 2008.

With one day to go to the GOP primary in Michigan, Republican candidates are competing against each other to depict themselves as champions of the beleaguered American auto industry. Mitt Romney has accused Sen. John McCain of contributing to the "overregulation" of the industry. But he is on shakier ground when he attempts to fend off charges that he favored higher taxes on gas guzzlers while running for governor of Massachusetts.

The Facts

Running for the governorship of Massachusetts in September 2002, Romney portrayed himself as a commuter-friendly candidate, pledging to take steps to ease traffic congestion and pollution. He promised to clean up the traffic mess with a "commuter bill of rights," unveiled to reporters in a PowerPoint presentation on a bus trip around Boston. His proposals included a reworking of the annual motor vehicle excise tax to favor "fuel efficient" vehicles. (Associated Press, Sept. 4, 2002.)

Romney stressed that the excise tax structure would be reworked in a "revenue neutral" way so that the cities and towns that collected the taxes would not lose money. Although he did not explicitly refer to an increase in taxes on SUVs, his aides acknowledged that a reduction in excise taxes on hybrid vehicles would have to be accompanied by an increase in taxes on gas guzzlers in order to bring in the same amount of revenue. (Associated Press, Jan. 23, 2003.)

In addition to the restructuring of the annual vehicles excise taxes, Romney also proposed a 10-year sales tax moratorium on hybrid vehicles. Unlike the excise tax, which is paid annually, the sales tax is only paid once.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said that Romney had only called for a tax cut on hybrid vehicles. Campaign officials said today that the the revamping of the excise tax was just a proposal "studied during the 2002 campaign," which was never implemented.

"There's a big difference between proposing tax breaks to encourage consumers to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles, and imposing costly mandates on automakers that make it harder for our domestic manufacturers to compete, as John McCain has done," said Romney spokesman Ted Newton.

The Pinocchio Test

As he chases votes in Michigan in an attempt to keep his presidential bid alive, Mitt Romney has conveniently forgotten what he told Massachusetts voters back in 2002. It is true that nothing came of his 2002 campaign proposal for revamping the vehicle excise tax to favor fuel-efficient vehicles at the expense of gas guzzlers. But it is a big stretch for the Romney campaign to deny that he ever made such a proposal.

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By Michael Dobbs  | January 14, 2008; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  2 Pinocchios, Candidate Record, Candidate Watch, Economy  
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