THE TAXMAN COMETHYeah, yeah, we all hate the IRS.
But for most of us, paying income tax is still a better deal than the proposed alternative--which basically boils down to a higher sales tax. In fact, the Arizona income tax is pretty much peanuts for all but the top filers.
But our own certainty that we're paying too much in income taxes--while everybody else is cheating--makes it easy to buy into the bullshit that starts flying around April 15.
You'll hear congressmen bitch about how the tax code is too complicated, even though they could close up those loopholes overnight. A gutsier Congress actually did just that, back in 1986, but the current crop just keeps adding convoluted provisions while shifting the burden away from the wealthy and onto the middle class--and then complaining about complexity.
You'll hear jibber-jabber--particularly from simple-minded TV airheads--about Tax Freedom Day, which is supposedly the day that the average American finishes paying all taxes to all levels of government, as calculated by Tax Foundation. This year, Tax Freedom Day for the nation falls on April 17; here in Arizona, it's April 15.
But, as the eggheads at Center on Budget and Policy Priorities point out, the date is utterly meaningless. There's a mess of bogus data that produces that average, but the central one is this: Despite the best efforts of fat-cat plutocrats, the income tax at both the state and federal levels remains progressive, so the wealthiest 10 percent--despite their many deductions--pay far more than most Americans. Given how that fundamental unbalance skews the numbers, the average that eventually shakes out of such calculations has nothing to do with what the average American pays.
And you'll hear a lot about a national sales tax in the place of the IRS. This boondoggle is mainly pushed by a group called Americans for Fair Taxation, which also cooks the books to make their idea palatable, saying a 23 percent national sales tax would allow the United States to replace the income tax without bringing in the same amount of money.
But again, they're playing with the numbers. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy recently examined the latest congressional bill creating a national sales tax and concluded that even under the legislation as proposed, the rate is 30 percent, not 23 percent. And that's just the start of the math problems; once you remove all the bullshit, you find the national sales tax rate would have to climb up into the neighborhood of 50 percent to be revenue-neutral. And, by the way, it has to be extended to a whole bunch of services that are now untaxed.
We're sure the FairTax folks have rebuttals to all those arguments. In fact, they claim to have position papers on their Web site, although all you get is error messages when you try to download any of 'em. There's a metaphor for you!
But any intelligent analysis shows that a national sales tax would shift taxes from the wealthy to the poor and middle class, while creating an enormous incentive to evade sales taxes by creating a separate underground black market.
Hey, draw your own conclusion on whether that's a good idea. President George W. Bush has; he calls a national sales tax "the kind of interesting idea we ought to explore seriously."
DOUBLE SPEAKThe Pima County Board of Supervisors appears to have been suckered into taking over the full funding of the library system from the city of Tucson, which will force them to hike property taxes to raise the $10 million or so annually that comes from the city.
The city's original pitch: You county guys pay for the whole thing, starting this year, and we'll keep control.
The county's counter-offer: A phased-in takeover of funding over the next five years, with the county taking control of the operation.
We're all for more library funding, but let's dispense with two myths:
· This is a good example of city-county consolidation. Funny, we thought the existing system was an example of the goal of consolidation: Both the city and county kick in funding, and one agency handles the service. This whole shell-game seems more like a tax-shift to us.
· This is a good deal for city taxpayers, because they've been double-taxed. Sure, city residents pay both their city and county taxes support the library system, but at least it's a tax they're already paying. Now they'll be paying twice as much in library property taxes, without any cut in your city taxes. Wouldn't you rather be double-taxed than see your taxes double?
FINE ART FIRING LINETucson High administrative goons marched the popular and effective photography teacher Jerry Halfmann out of school in March, seized his computer and threatened to fire him. The offense: A student's photo that included the bare back--and just the back--of a female subject.
The photo that spurred the McCarthy-like witch hunt against Halfmann was hanging for awhile before some TUSD halfwit determined Halfmann had done something wrong. Props to Aaron Mackey of the Arizona Daily Star for popping the story first.
Filling in some blanks: Our friends at Tucson High tell us that none other than Francisco Moraga, the assistant principal who has become the thought, drug and parking police at the school, escorted Halfmann from the campus. Halfmann has taught at TUSD for nearly 30 years. Moraga's own drug bust was swept clean from his record before he began his meteoric rise in Tucson High administration.
Halfmann's students, who know full well what's appropriate, what's art and what's not, have won numerous local and national awards. They are justifiably upset, especially since Tucson police, called in to investigate, have found nothing to cause them to proceed.
MOD SQUAD DISBANDSSay goodbye to Mainstream Arizona, the moderate GOP effort to counteract the conservative Club for Growth's plan to take over our state's Republican Party. (The Club for Growth, incidentally, didn't make much of an impact, either, abandoning plans for an ideological invasion shortly after announcing its plans to transform Arizona's political landscape.)
Mainstream AZ--the brainchild of Jack Jewett, the former state lawmaker who now heads up TMC, and Grant Woods, the former Arizona attorney general--tried to skirt the state's campaign laws by filing as a 527 nonprofit instead of as a political action committee. They also figured that would allow them to collect corporate contributions, which are banned under state law.
And then Woods and Jewett figured they could do "issue advocacy" mailers in support of candidates they liked without triggering matching funds under the Clean Elections programs.
They were wrong on a number of points. For starters, their watered-down mailers encouraging voters to support moderate candidates were swiftly ruled to be advocacy mailers that dumped a lot of extra money into the pockets of the candidates they opposed--and most of the candidates Mainstream Arizona wanted to help out in GOP primaries ended up losing. Oops.
Then the whole issue of accepting corporate contributions became the focus of an investigation by the Attorney General's Office, with the Mainstream guys claiming that they didn't use any of that corporate money for the campaigns. That's some close hair-splitting, but the AG's office said it was OK, as long as they could prove it.
But it's pretty clear that the Mainstream Arizona effort has turned into a big mess, so Woods is now telling the press that they're closing up shop and moving on to a new recruitment effort. Given their success rate, conservatives are probably sorry to see them go.
FAIR PLAYSpeaking of money in politics: A few months back, The Skinny reported that the Federation for American Immigration Reform may have violated campaign-finance laws with a mailer supporting last year's Prop 200, the successful initiative that limited state services for illegal immigrants and placed new requirements on voting regulations.
Tom Berning, the former Tucson city attorney, first filed a complaint over the mailer back in November, saying FAIR never properly registered as a political committee in Arizona.
FAIR responded with a letter saying the whole thing was just a big misunderstanding.
That didn't resolve the matter for the Secretary of State's Office, which has forwarded the case to Attorney General Terry Goddard for further review.
AG spokeswoman Andrea Esquer says she can't comment on the matter, other than to say it remains under review.
MIKE VOIDMike Boyd, who parlayed his anytime-is-tee-time political philosophy into one term as Pima County recorder and two terms on the Board of Supervisors, was among three has-beens to dispense political advice recently in an Arizona Daily Star op-ed for wannabes and dreamers.
Boyd, a Republican, was joined by former three-term Supervisor David Yetman and former two-term Mayor and 14-year Councilman George Miller, both Democrats. Miller was the only one humble enough to be thoroughly candid, saying: "Take a sanity test. If you flunk it, you're eligible to run for office."
Boyd is still in office, practicing his swing while loafing and missing a bunch of meetings of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the multi-county Central Arizona Project board. It took F. Ann Rodriguez, the Democrat who has been recorder since 1993, a good part of her first term to cleaning up Boyd's mess from neglect.
Boyd's real tips: 1) Be vapid. 2) Stay on message--know nothing and keep repeating that. 3) Don't wear socks. 4) Stay out of the office. 5) Don't read. 6) Be a monkey for a stronger political influence (Ed Moore), then stab your mentor in the back when people in Phoenix ask, "Say, what the hell kinda fools are y'all down there in Tucson?" 7) Stay away from mean Star reporters who make you cry. 8) Make sure political animal Emil Franzi scoops you up from the county steps when you cry after meeting mean Star reporters. 9) Write position papers that catch the attention of 4-year-olds: "We Have to Have NAFTA." 10) Press on, or at least invoke that cheer frequently.