"Better Rich and Guilty than Poor and Innocent"

"Better Rich and Guilty than Poor and Innocent"
Photo by Jp Valery / Unsplash

[This piece was originally published on Home Yesterday in April, 2015.]

Senator Bill Cole has a big plan for West Virginia. It’s not his plan, mind you, but here it comes. Cole took center stage last week for legislative “interim” meetings. He announced that he’d like major changes to taxes in West Virginia. Wait till you find out what kind of changes he means.

Being against taxes is favorable ground for any politician. People don’t like taxes. But at some level, we all realize that the roads won’t pave themselves, good schools cost money, and we need law and order — none of them comes free and we have too little of all three in West Virginia, not too much. Compared to other states, West Virginia’s taxes are actually low, particularly our taxes on business and industry, which have already seen substantial tax cuts in recent years, when Democrats were in charge.

Cole, in his role as the leader of our State Senate, said West Virginia had a poor report card on taxes. He didn’t show the report card, he just said West Virginia was doing poorly and needed some changes. That’s easy enough to say — everyone jumps to agree these days when you say West Virginia is doing poorly. So let me show you the report card he was talking about (at right).

If wealthy, influential people like Cole wrote letters to Santa, that’s the list he’d mail to the North Pole. It asks for more and more for the privileged few, at the expense of everyone else. Item number (1) says “top personal income tax rate” — not all income tax rates (Bill Cole doesn’t care what you pay). He cares what he pays and that’s what he means to fix. Item number (2) says “top corporate income tax rate” — not all corporate tax rates (Bill Cole doesn’t care what your small business pays). He cares what his big business pays, and that’s what he means to fix.

Of course there’s other goodies for wealthy and influential people and corporations in there — Cole’s report card flunks West Virginia for just having a minimum wage (12), labor unions (13), for compensating people hurt on the job (14), and it also apparently counts it against us that we have troopers, teachers, firefighters, engineers, and others, working to keep the State running (11).

What difference should it make to Bill Cole what the roads are like anyway? He travels to and fro by helicopter and elsewhere by private jet. While you’re banging away on dangerous potholed roads, up in the sky, it’s smooth as silk for him. If his list makes it seems like he doesn’t care about your situation, that’s because he doesn’t.

Cole got the report card from ALEC, of course. Senator Cole has become so brazen he doesn’t bother to hide that he is running the playbook of the nation’s richest companies, as they try to chisel a little more money each year out our middle class. Cole’s big idea to compensate for this is to raise the sales tax that you pay to finance the taxes he won’t be paying anymore when he gets his new plan through.

By the way, New York, California, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Connecticut are all states rated significantly worse than West Virginia on Cole’s rigged report card. Places rated ahead of us include Mississippi, Kansas, and South Dakota. Do we want to chase worst-in-the-nation Mississippi? Bankrupt Kansas? Empty South Dakota? The only thing ALEC measures with its report card is whether people elect its minions to make them some more money.

The Republican tax strategy should go by its real name: plunder. Another million or another billion for their well-heeled donors, and all payed for by ordinary taxpayers who don’t have the clout or the voice to fight back. Pretty soon, the bosses will make a billion dollar deal one day, and plead poverty due to taxes the next. Actually, that just happened. Management spent a billion to expand its profits, laid off some workers to celebrate, and blamed taxes. It’s true: you’re better off rich and guilty than poor and innocent.

(And if you’re looking at that report card, and thinking it’s got things right — that we really should cut all the taxes on influential rich people, read this article and then this one).

Headline Credit: Immortal Technique