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Posts published in February 2011

Carlson: “A thing that money could buy”

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Some readers may recognize that line from an old Peter, Paul and Mary song that continues, “the rich would live and the poor would die.” Unfortunately, there’s too much truth to it: Wealth does allow the rich to live longer than those who do not have sufficient money, not to mention what’s left of the increasingly squeezed middle class.

“Income inequality” is a phrase news media and politicians alike want to avoid. They duck phrases deploring language that elicits thoughts of “class warfare.” The stark fact is income disparity, the difference between the super rich and the average worker, is at its greatest chasm in history (with the possible exception of 1928).

Yes, many of the wealthy (households with combined annual gross incomes more than $250,000) pay taxes. And, in a society that long ago institutionalized graduated tax rates, they usually pay more than those who earn less. But many of the super rich, the top two-tenths of one percent, don’t pay any taxes.

I once heard a member of the super rich say flat out “only stupid people pay taxes.” They retain attorneys and accountants to find shelters and write-offs to ensure they don’t pay a cent.

Yet they gladly take the protection of the American military in an unsafe world as an entitlement. They still expect their social security check when they “retire.” It makes me more than a little angry.

I mention this because, for all the rhetoric being tossed around regarding the need to repeal the historic passage of Health Care Reform because of problems and unintended consequences, the fundamentals of more government involvement in this gargantuan consumer of much of America’s wealth will remain in place.

Why? Because it is viewed as an equalizer that provides the poor and the stressed middle class more accessibility to more affordable health care and more protection against catastrophic illness that can financially ruin a household in a heartbeat. (more…)

The opening stance

At the Idaho House; lunch approaches/Randy Stapilus

There is a fee of $10 charged to some people convicted of crimes in Idaho, which is directed toward the law enforcement system. House Bill 26, which was up on the House floor late Tuesday morning, proposed to raise that amount (paid by lawbreakers) by $1.50, the added amounted to be used for law enforcement training. Carried by a Republican, the bill drew support on the floor and sounded routine and uncontroversial.

It failed, on a 31-34 vote - a vote which seems emblematic of where the Idaho legislature possibly, and the Idaho House likely, stands on the matter of taxes, fees and budgets: This is a session for cutting, period. Cutting, slicing, slashing. Anything, however minor and however appealing, that adds income in any way, is verboten. Anyt other response could send a message that revenue raisers might be considered, and what looks like a majority in the House doesn't want that anywhere near the table.

That's the thread linking HB 26 with several bigger measures in the last couple of week - a cigarette tax bill and an interstate sales tax bill - which were killed off (at least for now) by leadership in the House. Not that this is necessarily a dictate from House Republican leadership; a lot of the House Republican caucus clearly feels the same way.

The big public turnout for two budget committee hearings, on education and on health and welfare issues, undoubtedly had some impact on legislators, and may have given some program advocates encouragement that their side of the picture will be heard. But as HB 26 suggests, don't count on it. At least not yet, and maybe not this session.

If the budget and tax picture aren't largely slam dunked by early April (and opinions are mixed about whether they will be), there could be some re-thinking. But the mod right now is: Cut, cut and cut.

A different kind of response

More later on the Oregon budget proposal from Governor John Kitzhaber. Worth noting for a moment is a couple of paragraphs at the very end of the Oregonian's piece on the budget proposal: About the Republican response.

It said this: "Reaction from legislative leaders from both parties was generally favorable. Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, one of the most conservative members of the Legislature, called Kitzhaber's recommendations a "refreshing development." He especially liked the governor's focus on outcomes, rather than budget numbers. "It's not just about how much money," Richardson said, "it's what you get for that money.""

That's refreshing, too. So often, people in both parties seem to be mesmerized by the numbers, to the exclusion of content. It's just a reframing, maybe, but in this case that means thinking about what you're doing in a whole different way.

Where the money comes from, where it goes

Glenn Anderson's chart

This may be a broadly-applicable rule of government and politics: The people who (and this refers to people in geographic areas which) complain the most that their tax money is being sucked up to benefit those other people, over there, almost certainly have it backward. Idaho, for example, is one of the states that long has received more federal money than it pays in, in contrast to states like New York where the opposite tends to apply.

Skip to Washington state, and the parts of the state - mainly east of the Cascades counties - where such complaints run loudest: Our hard-earned tax money being scooped by those liberal to spend on Seattle utopian projects.

Republican Representative Glenn Anderson of Fall City put together and distributed a map (see above) showing which counties are net contributors of state taxes, and which are net recipients. And guess what?

Insult to injury: Anderson came up with the map as part of a proposal (House Joint Resolution 4214, with two Democrats, Hans Dunshee and Reuven Carlyle) "to dissolve and reorganize" counties that receive a lot more than they contribute. Those would be the small (with one exception) counties of Adams, Asotin, Ferry, Stevens, Lincoln, Garfield, Yakima and Wahkiakum, and all (with one exception conservative counties east of the Cascades).

"Oh please," says the Seattle Times.

Which prompted a more extensive dissertation on the Slog. One pointed instance from it: "But it might help if we, working together as one state, actually understood the underlying facts. I mean, if Ferry County taxpayers truly understood that they receive back more from the state in DSHS spending alone than the total revenues they send to Olympia, their representatives might not be so eager to slash DSHS spending."

In fact, read it all.