Thursday, August 21, 2008

Don't Tax Me Bro

Yesterday's WSJ had a story on tax revolts that are quietly brewing across the country:

Oregon voters, for example, will decide whether to allow taxpayers to deduct an unlimited amount of their federal income taxes on their state returns.

Nevada is expected to vote on a constitutional amendment that would restrict property-tax increases.

North Dakota voters may vote on whether to chop the state's personal income tax in half.

Most shocking of all?

On Election Day, Massachusetts will vote on whether to eliminate its state income tax. Advocates hope victory in a place long thought of as a free-spending liberal bastion will pave the way for similar initiatives in other states over the next few years. Critics insist a yes vote would lead to fiscal disaster.

Meanwhile, here in Minnesota we're going to make higher taxes part of our Constitution:

And Minnesota will vote on a proposed amendment to its state constitution to raise the state sales tax by three-eighths of a percentage point, with the money going to protect the environment and to benefit the arts.

Sigh. This new tax increase won't be permanent. It'll only be constitutionally mandated for the next TWENTY-FIVE YEARS.

The supporters of reaching deeper into your and your children's wallets so they can enjoy their hobbies have a snazzy Vote YES Minnesota web site. They have a blog, an online community, and a list of friends.

If you only looked at the site you'd probably have the impression that this whole campaign was about clean water for Minnesota since that's what pretty much every picture is of. The emphasis is on water, land, and nature with the arts and culture piece buried under the heading "This amendment is about PRESERVING OUR WAY OF LIFE."

This is no doubt intentional as voters are probably more likely to be willing to approve a tax increase for nature than they are theater. But taking a closer look at the "friends" list shows just how invested the arts and culture community is in this effort. Here is just a small sample of some of the groups who are bellying up to the trough in the hopes of feeding off the public largesse:

American Association of Woodturners
Children's Book Illustrators Guild of Minnesota
Embodied Arts
FUEGO Flamenco
Hendricks Norwegian Heritage Committee
In the Heart of the Beast Puppet & Mask Theatre
Loft Literary Center
Minnesota Art Therapy Association
The Burning House Group Theatre Company
Wicked Sister Dance Theatre

All are undoubtedly fine organizations who make their own unique contribution to the state. But is supporting them and the countless other arts and culture groups who are angling for their own piece of the taxpayer's pie really about "preserving OUR way of life" or is about preserving selected cultural niches that particular members of society happen to enjoy?

Thankfully, although the forces of Big Art are going to be lobbying hard and heavy, there is a band of scrappy individuals willing to stand athwart one of the biggest tax increases in Minnesota history and yell STOP!:

No Constitutional Tax Increase Campaign Kickoff Press Conference

ST. PAUL--Sen. Rod Grams, Chairman of the "No Constitutional Tax Increase" campaign, will be discussing the effort to defeat the $11 billion constitutional tax increase. Joining the Senator will be President of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota Phil Krinkie and others who oppose the initiative.

When: Thursday, Aug 21, 1:00 PM

Where: Room 181,State Office Building

Now more than ever, the only group on the ground manning the thin line against the latest tax juggernaut is the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. Now more than ever, they deserve your support. Drop a dime in their jar or stop by their booth at the State Fair. Just do something to make sure they know you're standing with them the way they've stood for you.

UPDATE-- A couple of e-mails on the matter. First a local business owner weighs in:

The WSJ tax article you blog of was read aloud at the breakfast table yesterday morning. Should this tax go through it will be the third time in a few years I will reprogram my cash registers to gouge my customers. As I think I have explained to you it hurts us unpaid tax collectors every time it goes up because we have to pay the credit card companies a percentage fee to collect the tax.

Most people think this is a small amount it is not. At the current 9.65%, I already have some big time customers paying more in sales tax than I make in gross profit. I guess I got into the wrong business. Oh well, think of all the nice art we'll get to enjoy.

Meanwhile, Nathan seeks the root causes by asking the 5 Whys:

Why do we need this?

To fund local arts and the environment.

I thought pulltabs did that?

We're not selling enough tickets

Why not?

Nobody buys them in bars anymore

Why not?

Nobody goes to bars anymore.

Why not?

Because drinkers can't smoke there and if they can't have a butt with a beer at the local watering hole, they'll just go home and relax in peace--except there's no pulltab booth at home so pulltab sales are down so revenues are down.

Why not repeal the smoking ban in bars, which will bring the smokers back and with them, the drinkers who idle away their time buying pulltabs, which will increase sales and generate more revenue for arts and the environment?


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