Published in The Enterprise, 3-23-98

Regressive Taxation “Flat” Wrong

by Rocky Anderson

Merrill Cook recently mailed to his constituents “published-and-mailed-at-taxpayer-expense” leaflets entitled “You Say You Want A Revolution.” (Did he know he was borrowing from The Beatles?) In this thinly-veiled campaign piece, Rep. Cook tells us about how he rode to the rescue with his “helping hand” to save a Salt Lake City business owner from the evil IRS after the businessman, in violation of federal law, failed to pay (or in Rep. Cook’s terminology, “had fallen behind in”) his payroll taxes. Then, under the heading “Tax Reform for the New Century,” Rep. Cook describes “THE PROPOSALS” for “tax reform.”

Those proposals do not provide a means for paying off the accumulated national debt, for which Republicans and Democrats alike are responsible. They would not give the middle class working people of this country a break from the disproportionate tax load they have been carrying. And they do not call upon the wealthiest to carry their fair share of the tax burden.

Rather, the only proposals discussed by Rep. Cook – a flat tax system and a national sales tax – are simply more of the same regressive, outrageously unfair proposals touted by other multi-millionaires who want to have the middle class pick up the slack after the wealthiest in our nation are allowed to dodge taxation on their dividends, capital gains, and inheritances. Heaven forbid that Steve Forbes and others like him who live off interest, dividends and the sale of stocks, bonds and real estate should pay taxes.

Those, like Merrill Cook, who advocate a flat tax system are engaging in the worst – but, unfortunately, often the most successful – sort of politics with this issue. They play to the fears, anger and resentments of the voters, while resorting to simplistic “solutions” that will only exacerbate the unfairness of the federal tax code.

Isn’t it ironic. Just before April 15, Rep. Cook spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on a slick mailing, on the front of which is a photograph of tax forms on fire. And, in the brochure, he proceeds to demonize the IRS. Stirring up folks about the IRS and our tax code is hardly a difficult, or courageous, task. At this time of year, who wouldn’t like to burn every tax form – and see every IRS agent run out of town on a rail?

Of course, the tax code is too complex, and, in many instances, the IRS has been abusive and irresponsible. But the solution is not found in a tax system that shifts the burden of huge tax breaks for the wealthiest onto the shoulders of the middle class.

After irresponsibly building up an accumulated debt of almost $6 trillion dollars, mostly since the beginning of the Reagan trickle-down years, Congress should stop patting itself on the back over its upcoming “surplus” long enough to figure out how to pay down that devastating debt. The answer is not in spending more, as President Clinton recently proposed in his State of the Union address, nor is it in giving massive tax cuts to the wealthiest. (Recall that, with the aid of a Democratic Congress, massive tax cuts and Pentagon excesses increased our national debt during the Reagan Administration from $900 billion to $2.5 trillion.) The only way in which our federal government can pay down the accumulated debt, and reduce the enormous resulting interest payments, is to receive adequate revenues (i.e. taxes) and to cut spending. To dramatically cut the taxes of the wealthiest – which is, after all, what the flat tax is all about – will only repeat the disastrous mistakes of the Reagan “revolution”.

As a nation, we must decide whether we will be responsible for our own spending decisions and pay off our debts by taxing fairly and spending less. Or will we continue with our free-wheeling spending and substantially reduce taxes for the wealthiest, consequently imposing upon our children and later generations the debt burden for which we are responsible?

As The Beatles challenged, “You say you got a real solution; well you know we’d all love to see the plan.” To those who advocate the so-called “flat tax,” we’d love to see the plan – and have you explain why it would be fair to tax the middle class more in order to exempt from taxation income from interest, dividends and the sale of stocks, bonds and real estate.

In pushing for the further shifting of the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class, to quote once again from The Beatles: “Don’t you know you can count me out.”