A Tale of Two Tax Bills

A lot of ink, both real and virtual, has been spilled on the tax bill making its way through the US Congress this week. MainStream has come out strongly against the bill, as it hurts Kansans and mirrors the destructive tax policies of the Brownback Administration. To put it simply, this bill leaves less money in the pockets of working families in Kansas. We have had some pushback from the public about this, namely, why oppose this tax hike, when we supported last year's Kansas tax reform that also raised taxes on working families?

Simply put, the GOP tax bill claims to lower taxes, but slashes health care and education in a way that lower and middle income Americans will actually have less money in the end. The Kansas tax reform bill explicitly raised income taxes, but did so to reinvigorate basic services for ALL Kansans (yes, even the very wealthy). Where Kansas is raising taxes to recover from Brownback's irresponsible tax cuts, the nation is just getting ready to start implementing those same irresponsible policies.

Let's get to the details, but first, we need to clear something up.

The false choice of "choosing"

The conservative pundits will tell you, as they have for decades, that Americans deserve the right to choose how they spend their money. This is the basic idea behind "Taxes are theft!" Let Americans choose the level of health care they want, or none, if that's what they want. Don't force healthy foods on kids at schools! Why should I wear a seatbelt if I don't want to?

Some of the fallacies of this argument are obvious. They drive to work on government funded roads every day, after all. But some of these ideas are insidiously subtle. Take, for example, sales tax. Kansas has record high taxes on the sales of food. This tax rate was raised a few years ago to compensate for the loss of income tax revenue from Governor Brownback's fantasy tax policies. Conservatives will argue that if Kansans want more money at the end of the day, they can simply spend less on "luxuries." A family can eat processed foods, drink soda instead of milk, and get by just fine. Buy an old car, or take public transit instead. Live in a smaller place, and put three kids in a room. Don't lavish money on vacations (or the local pool).

Here's the problem with these "choices." When your income is low enough that every dollar is budgeted, you no longer have the "luxury" of deciding to choose. Instead, you are forced to make choices. You are forced to choose between quality food for your family and junk food for dinner. Between going to the doctor or going to work sick. Between buying a new winter coat for your child, or getting by one more year even though it's a size too small.

Can we agree that every American deserves the right to not have to make these choices? That the American Dream should include home cooked meals?

The wealthy, who earn enough to save money and eat quality food, buy new cars, visit their doctor (and their pediatrician, and their dentist, and their orthodontist, and their gynecologist) or go on cruises... they are not forced to make these choices. Nobody should be.

Government should not require so much from people that they need choose between bad choices. Which brings us to the crux of the tax bills.

Who really ends up with more money?

Tax legislation is complicated, and any detail can be spun any way to support any argument. Technically, income tax rates do drop in the national GOP bill. But they pay for it by slashing programs that help those with the least money. (Actually, they don't manage to pay for it all the cuts they give the wealthiest Americans, despite cuts, the party of fiscal management still adds $1 trillion to the national deficit with this bill.)

Politicians look to simplify complicated tax bills for their constituents by distilling a few facts. But their choice of which facts, and how to frame them can be naive, disingenuous, or downright misleading. "Your tax rates will go down," is not a false statement, but it is not the whole truth, either. Just as Governor Brownback did, the GOP are selling their tax plan with half-truths.

The effects of Kansas' tax folly are now well documented. The state's emergency fund drained dry, its credit rating cut repeatedly, the economy stagnant relative to its neighbors, and services (health care, education, roads, pensions) that affect Kansans cut to the bone. There are now several studies out on the impact of the national GOP bill, despite last minute revisions that kept many of those who voted for it from reading what the bill contains. These studies all agree, low and middle income taxpayers will have less money under this bill than they do now. Wealthy taxpayers will have more than they do now.

This tax "cuts" result in poorer Americans with less, facing choices they do not deserve, and wealthier Americans with more.

If tax hikes are bad, why did MainStream support a tax hike in Kansas?

The tax reform bill that passed the Kansas Legislature last year, over Governor Brownback's veto, raised income tax rates on all Kansans. The state needed more revenue, "starving the government" was instead, hurting Kansans. But the bill raised rates for the wealthiest more. In fact, under Brownback, the wealthiest paid the same rate as middle income Kansans. This tax reform bill brought back a tax category for the most wealthy. And even so, the income tax rates are lower than they were before Brownback came to office.

Taxes are necessary for government to work. MainStream supports a balanced, sustainable tax structure that does not burden any one Kansan beyond their means. That means we support moderate rates for sales, income, and property tax. It means we support lower taxes on those who make less, and higher taxes on those who make more. It means we support taxes that give the state enough revenue to make sure no Kansan has to make the hard choices that wealthy Kansans never have to make.

They will call it "Socialism!" We call it looking out for your neighbor, lifting up entire communities, and making sure nobody is left behind.

Kansas is pulling itself out of the hole bad tax policy dug, just as the nation is teetering on the edge, shovels in hand. We must continue to show the rest of the nation how we can come back from these disastrous policies, one step at a time.

It starts here, with you. Do more than vote: get informed, get involved, make a difference.

Do you like this post?
Sign Up

if you are new to MainStream.

Sign In

if you're a Member or part of our network.