New Dogs, Old Tricks

Published June 10, 2013

by Gary Pearce

Daniel Gilligan, a bright young Democratic policy consultant from Raleigh, offers an analysis of Republican and taxes:

“Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly have got themselves all worked up over a humdinger of a ‘new’ idea. They want to get rid of that ‘antiquated’ and ‘Depression era’ tax code we got lying around, (and when you describe it like that who wouldn’t) and do a little ‘reform’. Of course, they said they wouldn’t raise taxes, but just look at the big list of things we don’t tax, they say. New taxes aren’t tax increases, right?

“Their gusto for their shiny tax package can’t help but remind me of another great reformer with a big idea. His name was Lord North, and you’ll remember him as Prime Minister for a certain British Monarch, King George III. Faced with some bills they’d like to pass off on anyone besides themselves and their friends, North and George decided to come up with a few new things they could tax, like services and some food items like tea. Sound familiar?

“They called it the Stamp Act and later the Tea Act and such (some folks have been worked up about that tea one the last couple years for reasons they can’t quite explain). Bear in mind this was in the days before PR whizzes could tell them to title things the opposite of what they actually do, like “Tax Fairness Act”. Their simple plan for tax reform led to a few complications with which you are probably familiar.

“No, my point is not some demagoguery like calling the North Carolina Republicans Tax Hike proposals monarchical, anti-American, much less to call for a revolution (yet). My point is simply that while they bemoan the antiquatedness of the current tax system, this new solution that North Carolina’s Republicans are pushing is nothing new at all – in fact it’s one of the oldest tricks in the book. While they might want to dress it up as a ‘reform,’ what they’re really after is some misdirection for a little re-distribution.

“Despite arguments they may want to make, twisting notions like fairness or throwing out technobabble like ‘disincentives for production’ to make it sound like there is some of the dismal science involved somewhere, the end product adds up the same: most folks will be paying more, while the top few will be paying less. You don’t have to take my word for it, their own ‘tax calculator’ said so.

“Telling folks they’ll be taking more of their paychecks home sounds great - until you’re in the checkout line, paying out more than the blessed ‘tax reform’ let you keep. Republicans can call it a tax cut all they want, but when the majority of the people end up paying more, one has to wonder: how long can these new dogs keep up their old tricks?”

Gary Pearce, in "Talking About Politics" blog, June 9, 2013