AUSTIN, Texas -- The state of the union is that money talks and
public policy is sold to the highest bidder. Those who give money in
political contributions -- less than one-tenth of one percent of the U.S.
population gave 83 percent of all campaign contributions in the 2002
elections -- get back billions in tax breaks, subsidies and the right to
exploit public land at ridiculously low prices.
This system in turn costs ordinary Americans billions of
dollars, not to mention the costs to health, safety and the environment, and
the cost of not having enough money for good schools.
Public Campaign, the group working for public financing of
political campaigns, has put together some of the salient information in the
form of a poster, available at www.publiccampaign.org -- and perhaps the
most depressing thing about it is the size of the payoffs for relatively
small investments in political campaigns.
For example, the top corporations that paid zero taxes from 1996
to 1998 --including AT&T, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Chase Manhattan, Enron,
ExxonMobil, General Electric, Microsoft, Pfizer and Phillip Morris -- gave
$150.1 million to campaigns from 1991 to 2001. Public Campaign reports they
got $55 billion in tax breaks from '96 to '98 alone, perennial legislation
to gut the alternative minimum tax and billions in rebates to select
corporations. Public Campaign also notes that we paid with a huge shift in
who pays more into the federal treasuries: Three times as much money now
comes from working people's payroll taxes as from corporate tax payments.
The entire system of taxation is regressive. The only way the
spinners of damn lies and statistics can get away with claiming that the
rich pay more in taxes is because they count only the income tax, which is
progressive. (That's why it's called the progressive income tax.) But sales
taxes, excise taxes, import tariffs, payroll taxes and the whole burden of
state taxes, which are notoriously regressive in states like Texas, give an
entirely different picture.
The Consumer Expenditure Survey prepared by the Bureau of Labor
Statistics, which I found in the Jan. 21 New York Times, shows that the
burden from nearly all forms of taxation -- income, excise, sales, property
and payroll -- is spread fairly evenly up and down the scale. The poorest
fifth, with an average income of $7,946, has a cumulative tax rate of 18
percent (those are the folks so memorably referred to by The Wall Street
Journal as "lucky duckies"). The richest fifth, with an average income of
$116,666, now pays 19 percent in cumulative taxes -- and that of course goes
down under the Bush plan. The percentages for the three middle quintiles are
14, 16 and 17.
There is double taxation throughout the system, yet President
Bush is concerned only about the "double taxation" of dividends. The poorest
fifth of Americans have an average of $25 in dividend income; the richest
fifth has $1,188. Yet $364 billion out of a $674 billion "economic stimulus"
plan is for ending taxes on dividends.
The big winners in our cash-and-carry system of government are
corporate special interests. Public Campaign finds that for a mere $48.9
million in campaign contributions, from 1989 to the present, the managed
health care and health insurance companies got protection from lawsuits by
patients who have been denied medical care, and defeat of proposed laws that
would make it easier for patients to choose their own doctor and would get
their emergency room visits reimbursed. We pay with over 41 million
Americans lacking health insurance, billions in wasted premiums spent on
advertising, duplicative paperwork and insurance company bureaucracies --
and with unnecessary death and suffering when HMOs overrule doctors.
For a lousy $318.7 million in contributions, the
resource-extracting industries (oil and gas, mining, electric utilities,
chemical manufacturers and timber) got $33 billion in tax breaks in pending
energy legislation; a weakened Superfund toxic clean up law; freedom to
remove the tops off mountains, and dump the waste in valleys and streams;
lax regulation of energy markets; and other regulatory relief, such as not
having to close high-pollution smokestacks. Public Campaign points out we
pay with dirtier air and water; despoiled national parks, forests and
wilderness; high rates of childhood asthma; millions in price-gouging; and
heavily polluted toxic waste sites, whose clean-up has been put in jeopardy.
As Kevin Phillips reports in "Wealth and Democracy," the entire
top 1 percent, over 1 million families, increased their average net worth by
75 percent during the 1990s. The net worth of the middle quintile, adjusted
for inflation, declined 10 percent between 1983 and 1995, and rose briefly
in 1998 and 1999, only to slide back after 2000.
"Wage earners in the United States collectively ended the decade
with less pension and health coverage, as well as with the Industrial West's
least amount of vacation time, shortest maternity leaves and shortest
average notice of termination," says Phillips.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the typical American worked
350 more hours per year than the typical European, the equivalent of nine
That's the state of the union.
To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other
Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web
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