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Tax The Fat Cats

Last week in Wisconsin, score another one for the fat cats at the expense of the little guy—the firemen, cops, janitors, garbage collectors, highway crews, etc., all of the invisible folks who enable us to live our “normal lives.” The fat cats include the corporations and so-called “small businesses.” including Harley Davidson and the Green Bay Packers, who will get their thick slices of the roughly $200 million tax-break pie over the next two years. Collectively they account for barely $600 million in taxes in a state facing a $3 billion budget shortfall.

Why not ask these businesses and their CEOs and many vice presidents to pay their fair share of taxes rather than giving them huge tax breaks while everyone else’s taxes increase?

Why are so many states (17+) passing legislation which cripples unions while doling out tax breaks to corporations and to the affluent at the expense of those who can least afford it? Are Wisconsin, New York, and other Northern states so paranoid about a mass exodus of businesses and their owners to the South that they’re willing to raise the economic burden on and reduce the quality of life for everyone else? In view of a national epidemic of similar prescriptions for closing state budget gaps across America as federal stimulus dollars vanish, this appears to be the silver bullet of the hour: slash programs benefitting those impacted the most by the Wall Street-driven recession, wring ever more blood, sweat, and fears from the shrinking middle class, and give generous, superfluous tax breaks to those at the top of the economic heap.

The most glaring example of this reverse-Robin Hood approach was the two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts for millionaires in November’s lameduck session of the US Congress, when more than $200 billion in federal tax breaks were extended to those earning over $250K/year. These tax breaks were designed to expire in 2010 because they were not paid for and would start adding significantly to the annual federal deficit. Furthermore, they were conceived in a bubble of economic growth and federal surpluses. It is no coincidence that the current budget battle in Congress revolves around where to cut $100 billion per year in federal discretionary spending for the next two years—roughly the cost of the two-year extension of the Bush tax breaks for millionaires.

In New York, we have a golden opportunity to push back against the tide of tax breaks for the economic elite at the expense of the rest of us. The New York state legislature is currently debating whether to extend a tax surcharge of eight to nine percent on those earning over $200K/year which now nets the state $5 billion per year. Incredibly, all but one of the state’s 32 Republican senators as well as Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo favor letting the “millionaire surcharge” expire in 2012, bringing next year’s the budget deficit to $15 billion! Even the Democratic majority in the state assembly is only proposing to continue the surcharge on those earning over $1 million/year, which only raises around $1 billion. This leaves a $14 billion budget gap to bridge with cuts to programs which benefit all New Yorkers, especially education, health are, job training, etc.

This is a defining moment for the middle class in New York State. We can either tune out and let the power brokers do their backroom deals which further engorge the fat cats, or we can wake up and demand our state senators and assemblymen protect programs vital to the vast majority of New Yorkers by insisting that they extend the millionaire tax surcharge on those earning more than $200K/year rather than letting it expire in 2012.

Despite being in a deep recession, Wall Street paid out record bonuses last year averaging $180K apiece. If the recession is indeed over, as Wall Street proclaims, there is absolutely no reason not to make them chip in a fair share of the cost of state government. It is time that we started reaching into the deep pockets of those who made a casino of our financial system rather than into the comparatively shallow pockets of public servants and working stiffs.

It behooves all of us to join with New York’s United Teachers in demanding that the rich paying their fair share of the tax load. Bleeding the middle class further should be the last, not the first, option considered by state lawmakers! However, if we don’t demand shared sacrifices as public and private sector workers are doing in Wisconsin, Ohio, and many other states, then chances are pretty good that we’ll just have to get used to paying more and getting less, just like we do at the pump these days.

Carl Mrozek, Lancaster

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