Class warfare is almost uniformly derided in Idaho. “Stop demonizing the rich and trying to create conflict between workers and their employers,” politicians frequently declare when economic inequalities are pointed out. But that’s not stopping a proposal from Republican leaders in the Idaho House to raise taxes on the poor and middle class so that taxes can be cut for the richest Idahoans.
The proposal would create a flat income tax of 6.6 percent, raising the lowest rate from 1.6 and dropping the top rate for individuals and companies from 7.4 percent. They’d eliminate the sales tax on groceries for everyone, but then increase the sales tax on everything else by one percent (a tax increase that would also disproportionately impact the poor and middle class).
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The net impact of all of this fiddling with the tax code would be that the more money you make, the better off you would be. It’s the worst kind of class warfare – a direct attack on the poor to further enrich the already rich. You might call it a reverse Robin Hood.
How can we possibly justify taking from the poor to give to the rich? It’s hard to understand what motivates this kind of proposal. The logic behind it has to be more farcical than fiscal. I struggle to understand how anyone could think this was a good idea.
It’s all the more shocking because income inequality is such a hot topic right now. From Occupy Wall Street to the new $15 minimum wage in Seattle, people are speaking out and taking action. The outrage isn’t limited to just liberal cities and states. Some of our country’s “reddest” states, including South Dakota and Nebraska, overwhelmingly passed increases in the minimum wage during this past November’s elections.
And yet, in Idaho this year, we’re debating a tax cut for the rich and a tax increase for the poor.
The proposal will actually increase revenue for the state. The idea is to apply it to our crumbling roads and bridges. Lawmakers mindlessly repeat inflated figures required for maintenance to move goods and services throughout our state. Meanwhile, a more basic infrastructure that supports mobility is in need of maintenance: our society’s social contract to allow for economic mobility.
We need to strengthen people’s ability to find good-paying jobs and make it easier for families to make ends meet. Tax cuts may have some minor impact on the decisions large corporations make on where to locate (the research isn’t all that conclusive), but even small tax increases on those struggling to provide for themselves and their families clearly have a far greater and harsher effect.
Class warfare is alive and well in Idaho, but it’s not the poor who’ve been itching for a fight. Instead, it’s the rich who are complaining and pushing for a system even more weighted in their favor.
It’s time for Idaho’s leadership to end class warfare in this state. But if they don’t, I know which side I’m going to be fighting on. ♦
John T. Reuter, a former Sandpoint City Councilman, is the executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho. He has been active in protecting Idaho's environment, expanding LGBT rights and the Idaho Republican Party.