I was rather Republican as a little boy, having come from a farming region that distrusted powerful labor leaders like John L. Lewis and Jimmy Hoffa. But todays GOP has gradually driven me leftward, with their NRA-led worship of guns and their intolerance on sexual issues and their efforts to require this land of freedom to be a wholly Christian nation.
They also refuse to raise the money required to fix problems: social, economic, and environmental. However, as one on-line commenter put it, believing you dont need tax revenue to pay for things is magical thinking, and magical thinking doesnt work.
So when I hear a negative political ad from a Republican candidate nowadays, my reaction is often opposite to what the candidate intended.
When Republican T accuses Republican M of being not conservative enough, to me thats a point in Republican Ms favor. And when he accuses Democrat O of being an extreme liberal or a socialist, I assume hes exaggerating greatly, and my opinion of Democrat O is not diminished.
When Nancy Pelosi was Speaker of the House, Republican T considered her a witch. He accused almost every Democratic Representative of voting her way on almost every issue. Of course they did. They ought to have done so. Pelosi is their party leader. What did he expect those Democrats to do, turn their back on their party and their principles to follow the Bush agenda?
Now in 2014, the Republican governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, is running for re-election to a second term. But hes trailing badly in the polls. Hes roughly 20 points behind his challenger, Tom Wolf, a Democrat. Its time to bring out the attack ads.
Once again, most of the accusations Corbetts ad makes against Wolf negative points, in Corbetts opinion sound like positive points to me.
First, because this is Wolfs first run for elective office, the announcer questions how much we really know about him. He did hold an appointed position in the previous governors administration. In shocked tones, the announcer asks, Did you know he was Pennsylvanias Revenue Secretary?!
What a scoundrel! Of course, revenue is an obscenity to right-wing Pharisees. Some people have always considered it sinful to take tax money from citizens, even if the money goes to worthy projects.
To me, however, the fact that Wolf served as Revenue Secretary is a point in his favor. Hes not a newcomer to state government. Hes actually held a responsible position in the executive branch.
The commercial continues, Wolf says hell raise the income tax on many hard-working Pennsylvanians. (In ad-speak, of course, all of you voters are hard-working.)
The ad is alluding to Wolfs recommendation of a progressive, rather than flat, state tax. A progressive tax involves a sliding rate scale that taxes higher incomes more and lower incomes less. A flat tax, on the other hand, assigns each citizen the same rate regardless of income. The federal income tax is progressive while the state income tax is flat.
To me, thats another point in Wolfs favor. The flat 3.07% we all pay here is unfair to our poorer citizens. They should be allowed to pay less, while higher-income citizens like myself should be asked to pay more. The people of the Commonwealth need the money, and fortunate folks like me can afford it.
Because Im not paying my fair share at 3.07%, Ive been contributing to certain non-profit organizations. Theyre taking up some of the slack by doing what government is too parsimonious to do. These organizations range from my local volunteer firemen to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
As a young man, I lived in Ohio, where voter approval was required in many cases before a local government could raise money by taxing real estate.
Each property tax levy expired after a few years, and then the municipality had to go back to the voters for a renewal. Or, when the municipality needed to borrow money for infrastructure improvements, they first needed voter approval to issue the bonds.
I always voted yes to these ballot questions. I admit that because I didnt own real estate, the money wasnt going to come out of my pocket. But if we didnt approve a renewal of the operating levy, the government couldnt operate.
This actually happened in 1976, after I had moved to Pennsylvania. Many residents in my old hometown had lost confidence in the school district and were refusing to fund it. Teachers and other employees were laid off. In the November 2 election, the district made one last attempt to win approval of its levy. The voters said no. The district was broke, and by the end of the week they had to shut down the school for the rest of the year.
Here in Pennsylvania, government operations dont depend on voter referenda. Instead, we have taxation through representation. Revenue decisions are made by elected officials, from school boards to the state legislature.
But of course politicians are reluctant to vote for rate hikes. This is especially true of Republican politicians, many of whom have sworn Grover Nyquists oath: I pledge to the taxpayers ... that I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.
I oppose this pledge.
First, a lawmaker shouldnt declare how hes going to vote before even considering the merits of the particular issue. To get elected, hes sold his vote in advance to the Tea Party. Its like an opponent of the death penalty pledging never to take anothers life and vowing that if hes ever on a jury considering a capital offense, he will stubbornly refuse to convict, regardless of the evidence.
Second, taxes are not evil. Linguist George Lakoff is quoted here:
But we should think of taxes not as punishment but, in Franklin D. Roosevelts words, dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society. Lakoff continues:
However, it would appear that in Pennsylvania, at least, our dues are not high enough. In only three days last week, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published the following four stories (which Ive abridged) about the state government being too poor or too miserly to meet its legal obligations and fulfill its promises.
Whenever beneficial government programs are unable to accomplish their missions because the Nyquists in the legislature have deprived them of the funds they need, our civilization dies a little.
And whenever any group of politicians becomes destructive of the common good, it is the right of the people to vote them out of office.