Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Oak Park senator in 2013 promotes taxes as fiscal solution, but fudges on what to call them


2nd installment, Short History of Oak Park, Vol. 2, The Donald and the Clothes Horse etc. . . . 

We left the Senator at the Carleton Hotel, June of 2013, assuring Oak Park's Business and Civic Council and other concerned citizens that the fiscal crisis in Springfield was being overblown by over-zealous Republicans.

The senator continued in a vein of all-conquering optimism with praise for the January 2011 temporary income-tax rate increase -- from 3% to 5%, which he helpfully explained was a 2% raise, though "Republicans [the rascals!] say 67%."

He also helpfully ignored well known Republican outlets such as Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, and Huffington Post, each of whom called it a 66% raise, the latter unconscionably adding that it was a "massive increase." Conspiratorially.

So what? The senator had something else in mind, a "fair tax" -- higher rates for higher earners -- that would satisfy budgetary and vote-getting needs simultaneously. He was being clever about it, rebranding the graduated or "progressive," tax, with its venerated soak-the-rich flavor.

Next day, in the (Springfield) State-Journal Register, he struck the still-hot iron with a thumb-in-eye comment declaring himself "not surprised" at Republican opposition to his proposal, introduced a day earlier, on the last day of the session.

After all, he said, Republicans are beholden to "the more well-off," for whose interests they would be expected to "step up," so as to "perpetuate an unfair tax." By Jove, a talking point!

And a hijacking in broad daylight, as it happened, of a term in use at least since 1999, when Congressional Republicans proposed a national sales tax to replace the IRS. File your returns on a postcard, the proposers predicted.

The term was familiar also to people who paid attention to presidential-campaign discussion in 2008, when it was discussed, and remained in 2013 the goal of Americans For Fair Taxation.

The senator's fair tax was nothing like that, of course, but imposed according to income (same-old, same-old), not spending. It was "progressive," its rate rising with taxpayer's income. Punishing success, say opponents, spreading the wealth ("You didn't build that,"), say Democrats, who normally rejoice in the word.

Not this time. Indeed, the senator showed trail-blazing mettle in scoring not only budgetarily and politically with his "fair" tax but also lexicographically, deftly changing the word's accepted meaning -- a sort of Humpty-Dumpty maneuver -- "When I use a word, . . . it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less." The senator did it for marketing reasons, he was to acknowledge in a later forum.

His 2% did not pass muster for one listener, as he explained in a letter to the Oak Leaves, the longer-standing of two surviving Oak Park weeklies.

"In a finance-centric discussion replete with bar graphs, pie charts and other data points," the man wrote, "[the senator] repeatedly referred to the income tax hike as a two-percent increase. At the same time, he dismissed those (including our Republican friends) who referred to it as a 67-percent increase.

The senator, however, "either . . . has a tiny hole in his grasp of math or . . . is reluctant to acknowledge the difference between percent change and percentage point change.

"Starting at 3 percent and then going to 5 percent is a 2-percentage-point increase. But it's a 66.7-percent change."

Right. The senator from Oak Park, a home-grown product in his 12th year as senator, still had something to learn about the village's people, in this case whether he could get past them with word games.

-- To be continued --