The Oklahoman published a disingenuous, unsigned editorial Friday about taxes that deserves a response because of a misleading statement that reflects right-wing, clichéd dogma but simply isn’t true.
The editorial (“Searching for ways to make tax policy more ‘fair,'” Sept. 30, 2011) makes some superficial observations about the issue of fairness in the country’s taxation system, citing, among other items, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s proposal to grant tax incentives for people who install storm shelters and President Barack Obama’s recent statements about taxes and wealthy people. It eventually makes the anticlimactic point that it’s just about impossible to figure out what is fair or not fair when it comes to taxes.
But at the end, the editorial tells this whopping lie, which has become almost a faux-religious belief among conservatives:
The only thing certain in life may be death and taxes. Taxes usually go in only one direction. Up. [emphasis mine] And to the top of the mind goes the awareness that we’ll still be writing about these issues for years, still scratching our heads over how to make tax policy more “fair.”
The argument that taxes only go up is an absurdity when you consider recent tax cuts at both the federal and state levels. Actually, a more accurate statement is that the tax burden on the wealthiest people in the country has substantially declined. The person who wrote the above paragraph has to know this, but chose to deliberately mislead readers. That’s pretty much standard for the state’s largest newspaper.
Let’s keep these two things in mind:
- The tax cuts implemented by former President George Bush in 2001 lowered rates on income taxes and capital gains taxes. Those cuts, set to expire this year, are still in place, and it’s unlikely they will be eliminated. Some estimate the cuts have added $2.6 billion to the federal deficit and had no impact on creating jobs or improving the overall economy. What they have done, as evidenced by the recent economy, is increase net income for millionaires and given many people stagnant wages and bleak job prospects.
- Oklahoma enacted income tax cuts from 2004 to 2006 that lowered the top rate from 6.65 to 5.5. It will drop to 5.25 in January. The Oklahoma Policy Institute has estimated the cuts will reduce state revenues by $579 million annually when fully implemented. OK Policy argues that three-quarters of the tax cuts benefit the top fifth of Oklahoma households.
Conservatives argue that since wealthy people pay the most in taxes they deserve cuts despite the fact some less-wealthy people pay more in taxes as a proportion of their income. Conservatives also believe that this creates economic opportunity for others as wealth trickles down to the middle class. Liberals believe wealthy people should pay more in taxes because they have benefited from an economic system that has allowed them to flourish at the expense of others. The increased tax revenues will add to a public infrastructure and system that will allow more people economic opportunities on a democratic basis.
The tension between the competing arguments has defined the taxation argument for the last three decades and even earlier in this country. Why doesn’t The Oklahoman simply acknowledge the two arguments, argue the conservative side and then give us supporting facts about how tax cuts for the wealthy have helped the country prosper? Why argue taxes usually go up against all the recent evidence to the contrary? It’s deceitful.