Note: This article appeared in The Indianapolis Star on April 23, 2003
Fair Taxes for All
by Jack D. Miller, Indiana Alliance for Democracy
Recent full-page ads in The Indianapolis Star show the incredible lengths to which wealthy right-wing interests will go to cut taxes on the elite while simultaneously destroying public services for the ordinary. These ads show an elderly woman imploring readers to “Tell Sen. Bayh we need his help to preserve what we’ve worked our whole lives to save.” The ads urge everyone to write to Sen. Bayh and tell him to eliminate the “unfair double tax” on stock dividends. Readers are assured that such a tax cut will put “an average of $936 in the pockets of each of the 9.8 million seniors who receive dividends.” What the ads don’t say is that for the 70 percent of elderly taxpayers (those with incomes below $50,000) the average tax savings would be $44. They also forget to mention that three-quarters of the elderly don’t receive any taxable dividends at all. The lion’s share of this $396 billion give-away goes to the richest 2.7 percent whose tax savings will average a whopping $12,300 annually.
Besides the hit on the federal budget, cash-strapped states will lose $4.5 billion every year because of this one tax cut. Impoverished Indiana will lose $48 million. According to reporter Bill Theobald, dropping the tax will also drive up the cost of state and local borrowing – a cost passed on to other taxpayers.
So, who’s pushing this plum for the rich? At the bottom of the ads are the sponsors — The Seniors Coalition and 60 Plus Association. Both of these organizations claim to work for the best interests of the elderly, but a background check proves otherwise. Both are front groups started by archconservative and Unification Church stalwart, Richard Viguerie, and both have been denounced as “fear factories” by the Council of Senior Citizens. Both are members of Citizens for Better Medicare (CBM), a front group set up in 1999 by the pharmaceutical industry’s lobby, PhRMA, to protect that industry’s bloated profits from common sense legislation. The Seniors Coalition (TSC) boasts three million members and revenue over $7 million but their tax return lists zero revenue from “membership dues and assessments.” Much of their funding appears to come from corporations who want to buy a ready-made grassroots movement. The TSC website shamelessly trolls for “corporate partnerships”, asking, “Are your expensive education and lobbying efforts hampered due to the lack of effective consumer support? Would an army of more than three million seniors working on important legislative/regulatory issues be valuable? Team up with The Seniors Coalition!” Check out the team:
Co-founder Dan Alexander drew a $23,000 monthly “consulting fee” from TSC during some of the four years he spent in prison for extortion. A Congressional Committee called TSC’s deceptive mailings “particularly egregious” The Minneapolis Star Tribune called a TSC smear campaign in Minnesota a “shabby attack” by a “sleazy interest group.”
It’s worth noting also where the money for this tax cut is going to come from. The House version provides for deep cuts in domestic programs that currently help our nation’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens -Medicaid, child care, food stamps, children’s health, school lunches, supplemental benefits for the elderly and disabled. Hefty cuts would also be made in benefits for veterans. It’s important to remember that this tax cut is more than a gift to the already rich. It is in fact a shameless attack on government’s ability to serve every citizen regardless of wealth – on democracy itself. Anti- government, anti-tax reactionaries get positively misty-eyed when they reflect on the aristocratic splendor of the late 19th Century. You remember reading about those days of low taxes and oh yes – grinding poverty, child labor, disease ridden slums, fetid water, tainted medicine and food, sixty-hour work weeks, no minimum wage, no pensions -the list is long and disgraceful.
Paleoconservative Grover Norquist is called the most powerful man in Washington you never heard of. Norquist heads Americans for Tax Reform and his goal is “to cut government in half – to get it down to the size we can drown it in a bath tub.” Representatives of the White House regularly attend his weekly strategy sessions on privatization and cutting government programs and taxes. Bush & Cheney love Grover Norquist!
Let’s remember the government that Grover Norquist and his wealthy powerful allies want to “drown in the bathtub” is the only force in America with a balance of powers and democratically elected officials. Government, too, is unique in having a charter that protects the rights of every citizen regardless of wealth. The poorest, dirtiest, least-humane countries on Earth also have the lowest taxes and least government “interference.”
Taxes in the U.S. are already the lowest in the industrial world. Americans of all ages need to decide soon whether we want to live in the best place or just the cheapest, because it can’t be both. A good place to start is taxing people who can afford the taxes and eliminate some taxes on worker, the unemployed and others who are barely getting by. Citizens can get more balanced information from a real grassroots coalition aptly named. Fair Taxes for All (www.fairtaxes4all.org).
Jack Miller is the coordinator of the Indiana Alliance for Democracy , Indianapolis, Indiana.