The Tax-Cut Con
SYNOPSIS: Excellent article on right-wing radicals, the regressive tax cut agenda, and
of the system we have had since Franklin Roosevelt that they want to bring about
. The Cartoon
and the Reality
Bruce Tinsley's comic strip, ''Mallard Fillmore,'' is, he says, ''for the average person out there: the forgotten
American taxpayer who's sick of the liberal media.'' In June, that forgotten taxpayer made an appearance in the strip,
attacking his TV set with a baseball bat and yelling: ''I can't afford to send my kids to college, or even take 'em out
of their substandard public school, because the federal, state and local governments take more than 50 percent of my
income in taxes. And then the guy on the news asks with a straight face whether or not we can 'afford' tax cuts.''But
that's just a cartoon. Meanwhile, Bob Riley has to face the reality.
Riley knows all about substandard public schools. He's the governor of Alabama, which ranks near the
bottom of the nation in both spending per pupil and educational achievement. The state has also neglected other
public services -- for example, 28,000 inmates are held in a prison system built for 12,000. And thanks in part to a
lack of health care, it has the second-highest infant mortality in the nation.
When he was a member of Congress, Riley, a Republican, was a staunch supporter of tax cuts. Faced with a
fiscal crisis in his state, however, he seems to have had an epiphany. He decided that it was impossible to balance
Alabama's budget without a significant tax increase. And that, apparently, led him to reconsider everything. ''The
largest tax increase in state history just to maintain the status quo?'' he asked. ''I don't think so.'' Instead, Riley
proposed a wholesale restructuring of the state's tax system: reducing taxes on the poor and middle class while
raising them on corporations and the rich and increasing overall tax receipts enough to pay for a big increase in
education spending. You might call it a New Deal for Alabama.
Nobody likes paying taxes, and no doubt some Americans are as angry about their taxes as Tinsley's
imaginary character. But most Americans also care a lot about the things taxes pay for. All politicians say they're for
public education; almost all of them also say they support a strong national defense, maintaining Social Security
and, if anything, expanding the coverage of Medicare. When the ''guy on the news'' asks whether we can afford a tax
cut, he's asking whether, after yet another tax cut goes through, there will be enough money to pay for those things.
And the answer is no.
But it's very difficult to get that answer across in modern American politics, which has been dominated for
25 years by a crusade against taxes.
I don't use the word ''crusade'' lightly. The advocates of tax cuts are relentless, even fanatical. An indication