By Robert Mann
Isn’t it remarkable how much conservative politicians just hate – hate! — tax increases on the wealthy? Remember how they howled just a few months ago when President Obama signed into law a modest tax increase on millionaires?
Most of the House Republicans – 151 to 85 – voted against legislation increasing marginal tax rates on those wealthy Americans. They were willing to let the entire panoply of Bush tax cuts expire for everyone else in order to preserve tax breaks for the top 1 percent.
But what if some politician — say a governor of a poor southern state — proposed increasing taxes on the poor and the middle class? Those same conservative elected officials would howl in protest, right? Because they hate tax increases of all kinds, right?
Actually, what those Republicans leaders really hate is tax increases on the rich.
In fact, they love tax increases on the poor.
And, in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s case, are willing to raise taxes on the middle class.
Consider what Grover G. Norquist and Patrick Gleason wrote on the Reuters’ website Thursday after Jindal partially unveiled his plan to abolish Louisiana’s income and corporate taxes, while increasing the state’s sales tax by 47 percent.
Jindal’s proposal is a model not just for other states but also for lawmakers on Capitol Hill. His plan adheres to the conservative principle that the tax code should not be used to pick winners and losers in the economy. It demonstrates that the purpose of real tax reform is to make the tax code more efficient and competitive – not to raise additional revenue. Jindal’s plan creates a predominantly consumption-based tax system and does so in a way that he estimates will raise the same amount of revenue for the state as current law.
A “consumption-based tax system” is a fancy way of saying that the tax code will punish you – with 47 percent more taxes — if you spend more than we think you should. (And these people say they don’t believe in social engineering!)
A consumption-based system is little more than over-reliance on regressive sales taxes (which fall disproportionately on poor and middle-income taxpayers) to fund huge income tax cuts for the wealthy.
Seriously, these people just love punishing the poor and the middle-class. In fact, they make quite the sport of it.
For his part, Jindal has already made life more difficult on many poor and middle-income families in Louisiana.
There’s the cynical and cruel way Jindal has dismantled the state’s health care system for the working poor.
And he’s slashed state appropriations to higher education, which has resulted in large tuition tax increases for many Louisiana families.
Now, Jindal wants to heap an even greater financial burden on these same families by drastically increasing their sales tax burden. (There’s some indication of a rebate for the poorest Louisiana families, but that won’t help middle-income taxpayers.)
[The Baton Rouge Advocate reports on Friday that Jindal will propose unspecified "rebates" of sales taxes to seniors with incomes up to $60,000 in annual income and families making less than $20,000 annually. No explanation on why a retired couple earning $60,000 needs the rebate more than a family of four earning $19,000.]
Think I’m exaggerating about the disdain that Jindal’s party has for lower-income Americans?
Starting in 2003, the Wall Street Journal took to calling low-income Americans “lucky duckies” because they were often too poor to pay federal income taxes (never mind that they pay lots of sales taxes and federal Social Security taxes).
Utah Republican Sen. Orin Hatch is one such leader to take aim at the working poor who, he claims, pay little or no income taxes. “I think many taxpayers are skeptical that the answer to our fiscal problems is for [the wealthy] to sacrifice more, when almost half of all households are not paying any income taxes,” Hatch said last year.
House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor also chimed in on this issue last spring. “We also know that over 45 percent of the people in this country don’t pay income taxes at all,” he said, “and we have to question whether that’s fair. And should we broaden the base in a way that we can lower the rates for everybody that pays taxes.”
You can draw a straight line from the Journal’s “lucky duckie” editorial in 2003, through Hatch’s and Cantor’s statements, right into the Florida hotel banquet room where Mitt Romney uttered his notorious “47 percent” remarks during last year’s presidential election:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it — that that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. . . . These are people who pay no income tax. . . . [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
It may come as a surprise to Romney, Hatch, Cantor and the Wall Street Journal that those taxpayers in the lowest 20 percent of income do pay an average of 17.4 percent of their income in federal, state and local taxes. In fact, in Louisiana, the poor pay twice as much of their income in state and local taxes as do the rich.
Which brings us to Jindal’s proposal to abolish income and property taxes, to be offset mostly by increasing the state’s sales tax by 47 percent.
Jindal, of course, preaches the gospel that lower taxes on the wealthy always trickles down to the middle-class and the poor, and spurs the economy. Never mind that the evidence indicates that the tax cuts Jindal wants actually exacerbate income inequality.
But this is not about actually improving Louisiana’s economy – which, again, Jindal says is very strong; it’s about the talking points Bobby Jindal needs for a presidential campaign in 2016.
It’s about earning the praise of Grover Norquist and other conservatives who devote their lives to making sure the wealthy are never required to pay additional taxes to support our wars or any other aspect of the government’s operations.
It’s about starving vital social programs (education, health care, etc.) in the service of making the wealthy richer and more comfortable.
It’s about vilifying the poor and the middle class for not paying their fair share and burdening them with taxes that will prevent them from ever getting ahead.
In the coming months, you will hear lots of talk from Jindal and his legislative supporters about the need to stimulate Louisiana’s economy (remember, it’s the same economy that Jindal claims is on fire).
What you won’t hear from Jindal and most of the Legislature are any words of concern about the state’s working poor.
Jindal won’t bother reminding us that, according to the National Priorities Project, almost 19 percent of Louisiana’s citizens (one in five) live in poverty. Put another way, that’s 825,000 Louisiana residents. (See a chart comparing the states here.)
But the numbers are more depressing when you consider our children.According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual rankings of the states, Louisiana has ranked 49th among the states in overall child well being since 2002. In its most recent collection of data, the Casey Foundation ranked Louisiana among the bottom ten states on nine out of the ten key measures of child well being. (See a summary of the report here.)
Twenty seven percent, almost a third, of all children in Louisiana live in poverty. That’s 285,000 children. (See a chart on Louisiana’s child poverty numbers here.)
Louisiana ranks 46th out of the 50 states in the percentage of children in poverty. Only Alabama, Arkansas, New Mexico and Mississippi fare worse. (See the state rankings here.)
It’s a dark and depressing situation for a state whose leaders refuse to address the real dangers that threaten us. Instead of investing in programs that help the poor (expanding health care, funding education), they are starving those very programs.
Today, in Louisiana, we have the equivalents of three Tiger Stadiums full to the brim with children living in poverty. Among our state’s many problems, it’s our largest and most vexing. It should be the top priority of every legislator and our governor.
But instead, our governor and his legislative leaders will devote the next few months to figuring out ways to make the wealthiest among us a great deal richer and much more comfortable.
And they will twist arms and issue threats in order to win enough votes to increase sales taxes on the working poor and the middle class by 47 percent.
Imagine what might happen if they devoted the same energy to helping the poor and the middle class?
But they won’t.
After all, the poor don’t buy legislators steaks at Ruth’s Chris or Flemings. And they certainly don’t have a governor who cares about them.
After all, why should he? They’re lucky duckies!
- Jindal Tax Scheme Directed By Washington Think Tank (dailykingfish.com)
- Jindal Unveils Plan to Eliminate LA State Income Tax (breitbart.com)
- Jindal: No more income taxes for Louisiana (hotair.com)
- Jindal’s model for tax reform (blogs.reuters.com)
- Louisiana Gov. Introduces Plan That Would Cut Taxes For The Rich, Raise Them On The Poor (thinkprogress.org)