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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Good readin'

Some good columns in yesterday's papers. The Oregonian's Renee Mitchell sang the praises of the group that opposed the City of Portland's ill-advised rush-rush plan to cover its drinking water reservoirs. Not only did the neighborhood activists stop the burial plan, but they also went to court and forced the city to reform its process for issuing bonds.

Multnomah County Judge Marilyn Litzenberger has ruled that the city must stop its practice of "emergency" authorizations for bonds without telling the public what the money's going to be used for. Good for the activists, good for the judge, good for the city, good for Renee Mitchell.

Meanwhile, over at The New York Times, there were two nice op-ed pieces on the upcoming round of "tax reform." In one, Yale law professor "Big Mike" Graetz calls for a national value-added tax (kind of like a sales tax, but it's paid by the producers of goods and added into the price), and a complete exemption from income tax for folks with incomes under $100,000:

The tax system can and should be fixed without such a shift in the nation's tax burdens. America should return the income tax to its pre-World War II status -- a relatively low-rate simple tax on a thin slice of the wealthiest Americans. Rather than repealing the alternative minimum tax, as many have urged, Congress should repeal the regular income tax. Enacting a value-added tax -- a tax on sales of goods and services collected at all stages of production -- at a rate of 14 percent would finance an income-tax exemption of up to $100,000.

As one would expect from Graetz, it makes a lot of sense.

In the other op-ed column, NYU sociologist Dalton Conley urges Democrats to seize the tax cut momentum from the Bush administration in order to help the poor. Let the middle and upper classes have their tax cuts, so long as there are tax and welfare-related goodies in the package for lower-income folks as well. He's also all for hijacking the spending binge on the military for "progressive" ends:

The worship of all things military can also be co-opted for progressive ends. The military is now the de facto welfare state. The armed forces and the Department of Veterans Affairs are the two largest health care providers in the United States. The military is also a major bankroller of higher education through the G.I. Bill. And because of America's all-volunteer force, it is the nation's poor that disproportionately serve. By proposing major increases in benefits for the families of active personnel, reservists and veterans, Democrats can use that holiest of holy grails on the right - "our troops" - to help increase opportunities in American society.

As much as I trust Graetz, I distrust Conley, who looks like a trickle-down wolf in progressive sheep's clothing to me. But his thoughts on fiscal policy for blue-state representatives are provocative.

Speaking of blue states, I heard a great line on last night's "Late, Late Show" from guest host D.L. Hughley, as he looked at the too-familiar bi-color map of our country: "Since when did America break down into the Crips and the Bloods?"

And speaking of provocative thoughts, The Times' William Safire is giving up his op-ed column in a couple of months. As much as I dislike his message these days, I'm not for shooting (or retiring) the messenger. I've been reading him calling the shots since Watergate, and his passage from the op-ed page is the loss of a voice of reason -- well, most of the time.

Comments (6)

The opposition to capping the resevoirs was the perfect example of activism in Portland's neighborhoods.

Critics say Portland's public process is too slow and impedes the flow of business. But I tend to think it proceeds at just the right pace to protect the citizens of Portland.

You've got a lot in this post this morning. Comment on one slice of it: thanks for the link to the Graetz tax reform proposal. Very most interesting and temptatious.

Importantly, however, the array of state and local taxes have become for many, and particularly, Mr. Bog, for the lower-income, a far larger tax burden than federal taxes are, particularly beyond the payroll tax -- and in Oregon I would argue a very regressive one, in spite (or because) of the "no sales tax" prevailing "wisdom." Please hold that thought, have a look and maybe comment sometime. I think it's one of the loudest silences in the state.

Mr Bog

I would be interested in a commentary on taxes, since you are the Tax Lawyer.

The VAT/Sales Tax is going to hit the poorer harder unless you do something like a rebate, but I don't know how you would do it exactly.

I am for the flat tax without deductions (I guess what AMT is becoming) and doing a single/married/kids exemption below $X. I mean as long as your have deduction schemes, rich people (and myself) will do everything to take advantage of them.

Your opinions?

On the reservoir covers, yes, I voted for 37 just because of the chilling effect on some of the zoning decisions. Yes, I know it was written poorly, especially if it is retro-active.

However, I have had it with PDC/Metro-like orgs just deciding without any public input we want to make the inner circle of developers rich on big huge redevelopment schemes. When did we eer approve trolleys, floating sidewalks, LightRail and now the gondola?

If they could only get excited about re-developing schools and jails.

Any mention of a Value Added Tax should be accompanied by a moment of silence in memory of former Oregon Congressman Al Ullman, who as chairman of the House Way & Means Committe in the late 1970s dared to propose a VAT and was defeated his next time out by Denny Smith.

It's been a quarter-of-a-century and to my knowledge no prominent U.S. elected official has proposed a Value Added Tax since.

What would be your prescription for Oregon tax reform, Mr. Roberts? (As briefly as you wish.)

I feel a VAT tax would just be manipulated by the 30,000 DC lobbyists and soon would exclude the elite, with 2 results,
the tax burden carried by the rest of us,
and the cutting of more services.

For a civilization to thrive,
Two things must happen,
1. Education
2. Healthcare

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