I went on Nate Shelman's show on KBOI on Friday. Forty Five minutes of people angry at me for talking about taxes.
Do I blame them for being angry? No. The idea of some amorphous tax increase frightens people who already struggle to pay their taxes. As someone whose small business some years earned as little as $5,000 to $10,000, I struggled one year to put food on the table. The tax bill I faced in April seemed staggering, impossible and frankly unjust.
So House Republican leader Mike Moyle and I agree on one thing, the income tax rates on the lowest of income earners in Idaho are way to high. The rates step up so quickly that people earning just over $25,000 pay the state's highest rate of 7.8%. People who make $100,000 pay that same percentage.
To me it defeats the purpose of tax brackets if the only real steps and reductions come to people earning $1,000 as opposed to $3,000 — incomes that are all staggeringly low. But some people earn money from investments and stocks and inheritance and I wonder why we tax the hard labor of someone who has no other income so much more intensely than money people may make with little or no effort of their own.
I think Idaho could have more income tax brackets above $25,000. I think once the economy improves we could even use the revenue from upper brackets to pay to lower the rate on the lowest brackets. In 2000 the highest rate was 8.1% but it and all income tax rates were cut. I would propose we return to this rate for those with taxable incomes of $50,000 or more. Until the economy improves I think we should add two other higher rates at $100,000 and $250,000.
But the sales tax, not the income tax, will likely be the tax my republican colleagues will eventually choose to get us through this economic crisis and keep the wheels from falling off the basic services like education and health and safety now that Idaho has far more people in need and suddenly far less to offer them.
If I had my way for now I'd only offer the grocery tax credit to individuals earning less than $15,000. Right now the state absolutely should not be spending millions to send $40 checks to families like mine, that are doing ok still. The money should go to schools.
But all my rational for our generosity in having higher income people pay more taxes would not convince many of the callers to Nate Shelman's show. I like Nate a lot. Clearly though there is a fundamental difference in philosophy and maybe even a different sense of morality at play with some of his audience here. Caller after caller seemed mad at the very idea of paying taxes that might benefit someone besides themselves. To a few of the callers the idea of helping people who have less or who have fallen on hard times seemed repugnant. Clearly some feel no obligation to ensure that our neighbors are getting medical care, food or shelter from the cold. It is a set of values I can not answer to.
Yes, I'm used to my colleagues saying that churches, not governments should provide help to the poor. But what church can run Idaho's medicaid program providing medical and health care to thousands of people living with disabilities? What food bank could feed the never ending lines of people needing foodstamps now for the first time in their lives? What church could extend mental health treatment and support to all of Idaho's unemployed at a time when suicide rates are climbing from what was already one of the highest rates in the nation?
Our population has grown too big and too complex. While many may not trust government not to waste their money, the alternative is grim. And funny that it is the Constitution, the very document which some value above all else, which helps guarantee that we do not let people with cancer die in the streets.
People are suffering and scared, yes. But where is our compassion? The economy is thawing but not in time to save this budget, our schools and state. Where is our generosity now when we need each other most — when it will take our collective effort to get us all through this short difficult year ahead.