Monday, October 31, 2005

Why Are Politicians In Texas So Afraid To Openly And Honestly Debate A State Income Tax?

I want to do something here that every Republican and most Democrats are afraid of doing, talk about a state income tax. I am going to point out some articles that have appeared over the past few weeks. These articles have brought up the subject but remember, by and large, despite these articles, other than state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh and state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, nobody else, of either party, will speak about a state income tax in public. I know, Republicans will speak out against it anytime, anywhere. They will, but not in an honest debate with a proponent. They will be quoted in a newspaper article or in a speech but that's about it. They will say they're against it or say that it just won't pass. They won't say specifically what's wrong with it. In either case if they're against it or in the "it-won't-pass" crowd they just leave it at that. It's like they're scared to talk about an income tax. I think the reason Republicans are scared to talk about it is because they don't want to have to say why they're against a tax that is progressive, treats everyone the same, no matter how much money they earn, and could bring down property taxes by as much as 90%, and will put more money into our public schools. That's why I want to know why every elected representative, excluding two, in this state are against or won't speak out in favor of those things?

For Democrats it's a perceived fear of political suicide that is keeping them from talking about and income tax and I hope to point out that even that fear is coming to an end. The Republicans also fear that if people hear about and understand how an income tax would work the public may like it and be for it. As I mentioned above it's the progressive and fair part of an income tax that Republicans have a problem with. A progressive tax means, the more you earn the, the higher your tax rate. Does that sound fair? Well someone once said, "To whom much is given, much is expected" (Luke 12:48), and how could a Republican argue with that? We all know that Republicans are against that because making the tax structure fair in Texas means the wealthy will have to pay more.

I'll show you how a typical appearance by Sen. Shapleigh is covered in the media with an article that appeared two weeks ago in the Star-Telegram, Lawmaker urges state income tax. The article was about some appearances Sen. Shapleigh made in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He makes his case which is basically this:
Shapleigh said an income tax would reduce property taxes 90 percent because the state constitution requires that two-thirds of any income tax go into a property tax reduction.

He argued that would be a much fairer system than relying on sales and property taxes, which, he said, force people with low incomes to pay more in taxes over a year.
What usually follows is a long line of Republicans, right-wing think tank hacks and political analysts telling us why an income tax won't pass. They usually won't attack the substance of what Sen. Shapleigh says. (Political analysts are exempt from this criticism because that is what they do). In this case as in others we also get misinformation. I don't think Sen. Shapleigh feels he needs to answer the misinformation when it is supplied by the think tank hacks but when it comes from other elected officials he must and that is what happens in this LTE from Sen. Shapleigh, The case for a state income tax. I would encourage everyone to read his rebuttal to the misleading information put out by the Governor's and Speaker's office. Here is how he wraps it up:
We must continually fact-check myths about the state income tax, especially falsehoods perpetuated by those who benefit most from the current tax structure. If the governor told any group in the state that he had a plan to lower school property taxes 90 percent and increase education funding for schools so that they can hire motivated and certified teachers teaching a rigorous curriculum in state-of-the-art classrooms, and that his plan also would deliver net tax cuts to 70 percent of Texans, that governor would be the most popular in state history.

A state income tax does have popular support, with 55 percent of respondents showing support in a poll by the governor's own pollsters, Baselice & Associates.

It's time to openly and honestly discuss a state income tax for the future of our state and children.
The last line is the main point that needs to be made about a state income tax. Let's debate it, openly and honestly. But the political analysts are right too, the politicians in this state don't want to debate it because they perceive it to be a sure loser and/or political suicide. But is it political suicide and what do the people think? Well as Sen. Shapleigh pointed out, in the governor's own poll, 55% of the people said they are for it, Perry Pounded in the Polls:
The most intriguing responses in the Baselice poll came on revenue questions. Fully 69% oppose an increase in the sales tax rate – part of virtually every plan under consideration by the Lege – but 55% said they would support a "statewide education flat tax on income" dedicated to public education and deductible from federal income taxes.
And as Sen. Shapleigh says:
… most Texans are "ahead of the politicians" and favor an income tax when the benefits are explained to them.
I understand that Sen. Shapleigh and Rep. Rodriguez are doing this because they are in safe districts but that poll obviously shows that because of the fiscal mess we are in and with property taxes so out of control the people are willing to look at all the options, including a state income tax. But not the governor and John Sharp. It's back to the same old song and dance, business taxes, and it it ain't gonna work. It's been tried before - the last three legislative sessions - and it'll fail again. This is insanity defined - trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I guess what I hope is that this will start to signal to Democrats, or anyone else who might be for this, that it's not political suicide to talk about a personal income tax anymore. Especially with the way this state's tax structure is, and everything should truly be on the table including a state income tax. Am I starting to sound redundant, good.

For another back-and-forth on a Sen. Shapleigh appearance you can check out these two posts from The Jeffersonian, Oh How I Love Roddy Stinson and More Stinson. These two posts refer back to when Sen. Shapleigh made an appearance in San Antonio and how a right-wing San Antonio Express News columnist reacted to it. He first attacked the messenger and then when called on not saying anything about why an income tax is bad, by the readers of the paper, he went on to use the it will never pass defense, which is still a dodge.

The next sign that the income tax is not political suicide can be found here. Check out this quote from over the weekend from this article in the Houston Chronicle:
"Rather than have them tax my unrealized capital gains," he says, "I'd rather have them tax my income. Then the tax would be based on what I could actually pay."
That's from ".. a Republican precinct chairman and a skilled engineer who retired as a high-level executive with one of the big oil companies." This is another sign of how bad things have gotten in this state for the property tax. Even Republican precinct chair's can be swayed to vote for a state income tax.


A couple of more items.

Here is another article from today on Sen. Shapleigh's appearance in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, Is a state levy on income a good idea? This article starts out talking about whether a state income tax is a good idea or not. But quickly devolves into arguing about Sen. Shapliegh's other idea of putting more money into education.

Check out Sen. Shapleigh's web site for more.

And also Texans for Tax Relief to see how an income tax may work for you.

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