Sunday, May 04, 2008

Taxing Ideas

In a recent TV campaign ad, Steve Novick, one of several Oregon Democrats vying for Republican Gordon Smith’s U.S. Senate seat, says that even millionaires should have 100% of their earnings subjected to Social Security tax. He’s exactly right. If having 100% of earnings subject to S.S. tax is good enough for those making less than $97,500 a year, it’s good enough for those who make more than that amount, too.

But why stop there? Why not make all income, regardless of its source, fair game for Social Security taxes? And while we’re at it, why not subject all income, regardless of source, to the same tax rates? The idea that investors are entitled to special tax rates on investment income because invested money is “at risk” capital is specious bullshit.

If risk is a legitimate argument for preferential tax treatment, then people who work in hazardous occupations should also qualify for lower tax rates. After all, their “capital”—their health and physical well being—is also at risk whenever they engage in hazardous occupational activity. Any injury or health defect sustained in the course of earning an income has the potential to compromise one’s ability to earn future income.

The newly enfranchised tax break beneficiaries must include loggers, miners, fishers, truckers, construction workers, commercial pilots, cops, firemen, machinists, bartenders, convenience store clerks, production workers, office workers . . . oh, hell! Let’s just include all workers regardless of their job. Everyone, during the course of their work, is at risk for some type of injury or adverse health consequence that can be attributed to the job.

A question we should all ask ourselves is if working-class people paid the same tax rates currently enjoyed by the wealthiest 1%, could the government continue to provide services at the same level it now provides. If the answer is yes, then Congress should immediately (and retroactively) extend Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy to include the not so wealthy. If the answer is no, then Congress should rescind Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy and strive to make taxes equitable across the board.

Damnit, I know that taxes can seem onerous at times, but try funding fire and police protection, primary and secondary education, transportation infrastructure, military defense, and a litany of other services that government agencies normally provide out of your own pocket and see how little your money—without government involvement—will buy. Suddenly, taxes begin to look like a bargain.

Granted, government spending is often wasteful, but reining in corporate influences over government entities, providing better oversight of government policies and programs, demanding personal accountability from our elected and appointed officials, and eliminating overlaps and redundancies to streamline government services and make them more efficient would go a long way toward reducing costs and restoring the public’s confidence in government. There’s no incentive more important to taxpayers than the perception that their tax dollars aren’t wasted, that they’re actually spent to pay for things that have demonstrable value.

No one likes paying taxes; I get that. But if you think that the answer to taxes is to slash government services, privatize as much as you can of what remains, and outsource everything else in the mistaken belief that corporations can provide a higher level of service at a lower cost than government can, you haven’t been paying attention.

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