When discussion comes to funding schools, streets and infrastructure, a common theme is to assess some tax or fee that doesn’t include big business.
Governor Kitzhaber says he wants revenue reform and a state sales tax, but in a recent “special session” gave Nike a 30-year tax break. In Portland, commissioners proposed a residential street fee to fix potholes. No proposal I’m aware of demands big business stop freeloading on the public. As one of the dwindling middle-class, it’s clear to me that the $3,000 annual property tax, and the 25 or 30 percent of state and federal income tax, is about as much as I can manage. Add to that the costs of sending a daughter to college, rising fuel costs, mortgage and credit payments. That takes care of two teachers’ combined incomes (forget savings).
Thankfully, we are managing. But parents with only one income (which may not be full-time or provide benefits) are in a tight spot. Workers who do not receive a professional or living wage are in deep hurt.
The folks who are not hurting are those for whom income is not dependent on work, but on a share of company profits. These are the folks who pay a maximum of 15 percent federal tax on millions or billions of dollars in capital gains and other investments (much less than the 28 percent federal income tax cap you and I might pay). These are high-rollers who have disposable income to buy media, fund political campaigns, and buy stables of lobbyists to promote “business-friendly” legislation. There is a long list of U.S. corporations that pay little or no federal tax (source: Citizens for Tax Justice, ctj.org).
So why do Google, Intel, Boeing and Nike get special tax breaks from the federal and state government, and local communities?
There are two main reasons. These companies cry foul when they are asked to pay their fair share and threaten to locate in a community (or country) more desperate for jobs. The second is the national norm to grant tax immunity to private business simply because Milton Friedman said so. (Freidman is the economic guru of the Chicago school of economists that promoted a “self-regulating” free market.) He continues to wield undue influence even though his single-minded vision has been debunked, most recently by Thomas Piketty in “Capital in the 21st Century.”
As a taxpayer and a witness to the declining public contributions of wealthy and irresponsible corporations, I object to the potholes, the deficits, the tax breaks, the political manipulation, and the arrogance of corporate America. It is time that we, as a people, demand that corporate America contribute to the common good.
What can you do? First of all, inform yourself of the political contributions of these corporations to your state and local candidates. (Right here in Hood River, our legislative representative is funded by Nike, the Koch Brothers, and a list of private donors, companies and industry groups to the tune of $255,000: a quarter of a million dollars for a tiny, rural district. (source: http://votesmart.org/candidate/campaign-finance/119260/mark-johnson#.U4JeTihQyFA)
Second, you need to vote, and to vote for candidates who have the courage to stand up to the Nikes and the Googles, and tell them we do not want them in our communities unless they pay their taxes.
Third, you can support a constitutional amendment to ban unlimited money in election campaigns and to ban “dark money” (political money that is not publically identified). Ultimately, we will have to reform national and state election laws.
There is a dirty connection between tax breaks for corporations and the infusion of corporate cash into our democratic process. Money talks and unless we, the public, control the conversation, excess corporate profits will fund more lobbyists and corporate-controlled candidates.
Corporations will continue to freeload at your expense and my expense for the roads, fire protection, public safety, water, hydropower and infrastructure they depend on, as well as the quality education that they so shamelessly demand of public schools but are unwilling to fund.
In the coming election, demand that candidates for public office address these issues: a living wage for all workers, corporate-funded tax revenue for schools and infrastructure, and eliminating corporate tax loopholes.
It’s long past due for big business to step up. And pay up.
Mark Reynolds is a teacher in the gorge.