Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tom Horner will pry my $5 pack of Camels out of my cold dead hands

So Tom Horner put out his budget plan today. And before I nitpick it to death, I'd just like to state that I appreciate that he's trying to have somewhat of a blueprint for the budget, unlike Tom "Taxes, schmaxes, everything will be magically paid for with unicorn tears" Emmer. It's going to follow that everyone is going to have a fit over this proposal because there are things to attack from both a liberal and conservative standpoint, and because it is the most detailed plan we've seen so far, easy to attack and wrinkle up one's nose at. Perhaps this is the point, Horner put himself out there in a big way today, and although suggesting things like taxing new items and services can garner a lot of bad attention, it's still attention. Which Horner really needs right now (unlike the other two, he can't really buy it).

So here's what I see as the good, the bad, and the ugly.

First, the proposed tax on cigarettes and alcohol (full disclosure, I love both of these things). I find these "sin taxes" to be just lazy (Horner is predictably citing health reasons to support this tax increase). It's an easy way to push a regressive tax on the lower and middle classes without coming out and saying that's what you are doing. People will cry bloody murder if you say "You know, I think poor people should get a tax increase", but if it's smokers? Well, fuck them, right? Assigning sin taxes to addictive substances just seems sadistic to me. Sure, no one "needs" cigarettes or alcohol, but no one "needs" fancy cheeses or yachts either (but you sure as fuck need a jacket during the winter). But unlike fancy cheeses and yachts, lots of people are hopelessly dependent on tobacco and alcohol while not being dependent on fancy cheeses or yachts.Yet it's the addictive substances that come up for sin taxes every damn time. I suppose you are safe in assuming that you won't have to worry about that revenue stream running dry if you are taxing highly addictive substances. Taxing fancy cheeses, on the other hand, might make a fucker go Galt. Mah Brie!

Second, the clothing tax. I'm not necessarily against this one. I've thought it's long past due, we are a rarity in the nation because we don't tax clothing purchases. And I actually can get behind Horton's idea of dropping the overall tax rate by one percent while adding clothing on, increasing the revenue stream over a broader sense is a better alternative then narrowing it to specific areas only (I'm looking at you, Mark Dayton). But even if you could argue that a tax is needed on clothing, I'm not sure if now is the best time to impose one. I fail to see how requiring the private retail sector to take a tax hit would encourage job growth. Neighboring states patronize clothing stores in Minnesota because of it's tax-free status on clothing. The Mall of America was built here because of our tax-free status on clothing. So it seems like we should be encouraging people to shop retail, and a tax increase on clothing isn't going to have that effect. Perhaps the effect would not be that great, I couldn't say for sure. But I really see no logic in arguing that a tax increase on a person will decrease their spending while a tax increase on the product they wish to spend there money on would not.

Third, a statewide hiring freeze in the public sector and cutting off funds to counties (but allowing counties to raise their own taxes by one percent). Again, I worry about job creation here. If we are going to argue that private business cannot hire because of the strain put on them by the economy, offering jobs through the public sector may be the only way we can create jobs. Obviously a hiring freeze isn't going to create jobs, and along with his proposal to cut aid to counties I worry that we may actually lose jobs. No, you can't just have the government go in and create jobs for everyone that is unemployed. But history has shown that public works projects are a reliable way to get people working, and then spending, again during a hard recession, and if we can create jobs while at the same time investing in our infrastructure, I'm willing to take a hit in terms of debt on that.

Forth, racinos. I'm fine with allowing more gambling, particularly if it is set in an area that already allows other forms of gambling like race tracks (I don't dislike Dayton's plan to put a casino in the Mall of America either). I understand why local tribes are concerned about this, but that seems like an entitled stance to take, they don't own the market on it. However, I'm a little concerned about Horton's plan for earmarking these funds. A fund to go towards disaster relief is all fine and well, but using it build a goddamn Vikings stadium? I was lukewarm about the idea when times were good, but now? No. Fuck no. That is the stupidest thing one can do. I suppose one could argue that this is the same as providing public works projects to increase employment, and I wouldn't deny it could, but I don't feel right with such a project when so much of the benefit would go to private owners, unlike projects to increase our water lines and roadways, which benefit the people. I would feel the same way if someone wanted to use these funds to upgrade the Walker Art Museum. It is not unreasonable to ask those institutions that are a private/public hybrid to be put on the back burner for a while.

As a few odds and ends: I appreciate Horner's desire to invest in education. These days, the idea has been painted as some sort of socialist tactic instead of a serious investment we need to make to keep on top of the global economy. I would like a plan that does even out the tax rate disparity between the the very wealthy and the middle class, so I would like to see at lease a slight increase in taxes on the wealthiest in the state. I don't really know what to say about a corporate tax decrease, but I think allowing tax breaks for businesses investing in newer technology is a smart way to go.

I suppose I should find some sort of clean way to finish this post up. But what the hell, it's my blog, so I suppose I can end it however I want. Overall, I'm still leaning Dayton. But I think that Horner's got some good ideas here, and I do respect that he's willing to piss everyone off with his proposal, because that's the way it has to be, people.

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