Tax-cutting frenzy shouldn’t overwhelm real needs

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 20, 2001

It’s spring, and tax cutting is in the air.

Tuesday, March 20, 2001

It’s spring, and tax cutting is in the air. Governor Ventura is proposing a tax reform package that would lower property and income taxes. President Bush’s tax proposal would lower tax rates for many, and limit federal income tax liability to no more than 33 percent of anybody’s income. Politicians of all kinds appear to have gotten this message from voters: Cut our taxes! Funny thing is, when people are asked to discuss things the government needs to do, cutting taxes is not the number one priority. Balancing the budget is a priority, and making sure we have schools to be proud of. Cutting taxes is an issue with people, but not one of overwhelming importance.

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What will I do if these tax cuts become official? I’m not sure how much we would get – probably just a few hundred dollars. Maybe enough to purchase a new pair of glasses (which I need) or make a car payment or give us something to stick in our savings account. We would find something to do with whatever we got. But even though I know we could use the money here at home, I’m still not supportive of President Bush’s or Governor Ventura’s plans.

For the tax cuts proposed at the federal level, my own feeling is that costs to society and the economy will be high. Over the past few years of economic prosperity, taxpayers at the top (the ones who get most of the tax breaks in current proposals) have benefited the most. Their incomes have soared, the values of their homes have soared, their stock options have soared (at least until recently). In short, they have gone from being just rich to being extremely wealthy. Those of us in the lower tax brackets haven’t gotten as good a deal out of all the growth in our economy. And those who make minimum wage (or less) have actually seen their real earnings shrink. I don’t accept that those who benefited the most while the rest of us stayed even or lost ground should get more. If a tax cut for me means having to give up so much to the very rich, then I don’t want one.

Governor Ventura’s tax plans, on the other hand, are more balanced. I think the attempt to shift our tax base away from property and onto consumption makes a lot of sense. And while I’m willing to give these proposals a chance, I’m not sure he’s completely thought out the consequences of extending the sales tax to additional products and services. I also don’t see how depending on the state for all education funding will be good for our schools, especially if the Governor’s ideas on &uot;accountability&uot; mean linking school aid to the scores our kids get on state-mandated tests. And what happens when there are special needs?

This year there is a special need in our state that flows from federal mandates to upgrade television broadcasting facilities. Any television station not broadcasting in digital format by 2003 runs the risk of losing its license. Public television stations in Minnesota estimate that they will need $48 million to convert to digital signals, and they are asking the legislature to chip in $22 million, or just under half. The rest will come from fund-raising and federal matching grants. Last year Ventura vetoed the funding request. This year, it may not make it through the process again, all in the name of saving taxpayer money and holding down the growth of government.

I suspect that the public broadcasting outlets in the Twin Cities will probably be able to raise corporate funds to replace the state subsidy, but that won’t be as easy for small stations like KSMQ in Austin. We support our local station with as much as we can afford, but many people in this area who watch programs on public television don’t (or can’t). Sometimes there are special needs, as with the grants to upgrade to digital, with which the government needs to help. If cutting taxes and holding growth in government spending to levels politicians find acceptable means that we lose public television stations in greater Minnesota, then I’m no longer interested. I’d rather have good television for my children (and for me!) than a few extra dollars to spend.

David Behling’s is a rural Albert Lea resident. His column appears Tuesdays.