Why is it that we allow the Republicans to refer to themselves as the anti-tax party, when they keep demonstrating that they clearly aren’t? Sure, they’re all for the cutting of business taxes, inheritance taxes, and other taxes that would threaten to decrease the wealth of their party’s high-net-worth donors, but, invariably, those shifts in tax policy lead to higher taxes for everyone else. Elsewhere around the United States, the shift may not be as plainly visible, but, here, in Michigan, it’s painfully obvious to all but the most delusional among us. As business taxes are being eliminated, and corporate taxes on capital assets are being phased out, the burden of maintaining public services is falling disproportionately on the shoulders of the non-wealthy, and we’re all feeling the increased financial pressure.
In Michigan, income taxes on the poor and middle class are rising, the pensions of our retirees are being taxed, tax credits for the working poor, like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), are being slashed, and, with state assistance for higher education drying up, families are going into unprecedented debt in the hopes of securing stable futures for their children. The Republicans may not see all of these as tax increases, but they are. The increased insurance payments that many of us are forced to pay, because our local fire departments are being downsized, is essentially a tax. The same goes for the private school tuition that several of us are paying, rather than suffer through the constrictions of a public school system which is being systematically dismantled. And these few examples are just the tip of the iceberg. The truth is, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for regular working people in Michigan to merely sustain life. Fortunately for those in power, houses aren’t selling. If they were, I suspect that most of us would be gone.
And, as those of us in Ypsilanti can attest, it’s the folks who are living in Michigan’s aging cities that are feeling the brunt of this radical redistribution of wealth. With state revenue sharing for cities dropping precipitously, one-by-one communities are being asked to make the choice — either institute a personal income tax, and pay for our own city services, or submit to the rule of an unelected Emergency Financial Manager, who will be empowered to sell off our community assets at fire sale prices, dismiss our democratically elected officials, privatize city services, and break contracts with city employee unions, essentially stripping our carcass of what little meat there is left, and sealing our fate. As long as we don’t ask the wealthy in Michigan’s upscale gated communities to contribute toward the greater good, it’s all the same to the folks in Lansing. They’re allowing us to make the choice.
Speaking of Emergency Financial Mangers, and their emerging role as urban Rust Belt mortician, I found the following quote from Pontiac’s former Emergency Financial Manager, Michael Stampfler, to be quite telling:
“I do not believe EMs can be successful – they abrogate the civic structure of the community for a period of years then return it virtually dismantled for the community to attempt to somehow make a go of it… The program provides no structure for long-term recovery, and that is why most communities slide back into trouble, if they experience any relief at all.”
So, here we are, defunded to the point of collapse, with an ownership-class that has proven to be absolutely hostile to the idea of contributing toward the stability of struggling cities in which they do not live, the maintenance of public transportation that they do not use, and the education of children that they do not know, and I have to wonder just how long they can expect to remain untouched by the consequences of their actions.
In the meantime, though…
I don’t know that I have the time or energy for another project right now, but it really seems as though there’s a need for a concise, well-done multimedia piece, easily sharable by way of social media, that clearly lays out how, over the past several years, the tax burden in Michigan has steadily been shifting from the wealthy, business-owning class, to the middle class and working poor. I think that such a piece would be extremely useful, here, in Michigan, in the run-up to the next election, but I also think that folks around the country would find it to be a useful cautionary tale, as it looks as though every state in the union is following a similar trajectory, if a bit behind us. It’s complicated story to tell, but I have to believe that there’s a way to convey the facts in such a way that, at least the main points, are clear to everyone. Maybe, I’m thinking, this would be a good project for the progressive blogs of Michigan to undertake together. (I could see us launching a pretty effective Kickstarter campaign.)
As for solutions, I don’t know that we’d necessarily have to offer any in the video, but, in my opinion, there are three things that we need to do if we’re to turn things around — vote everyone out of office in Lansing, pass a progressive state income tax, and institute a rational system of revenue sharing, that strengthens Michigan’s aging cities, and provides a decent education to children across the state, regardless of how wealthy their parents might be. If we could just do that, I’d be happy.
And, for what it’w worth, I like the imagery of the voracious, blood-sucking octopus, but I could be persuaded to try different analogies.