Where I Stand:

For meaningful tax reform, give families a shot at some real green

Sun, Nov 5, 2017 (2 a.m.)

I could barely contain my excitement.

There was Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, with a crowd of young family-looking people gaggled behind him, explaining to the American people what a wonderful tax-cutting plan he and his colleagues had cobbled together.

At the center, he was delighted to explain, was a tax cut for middle-class families. Hooray, it is about time. As he described the plan and how it would work for a middle-class family of four, all I could think of was that little old lady in the hamburger commercial. “Where’s the beef?”

I have to admit, Speaker Ryan is quite the magician. He took the projected savings of $1,182 and made it sound like a million bucks. Not that an extra $1, 182 is anything to sneeze at, but, frankly, given the stagnation in wages over the last two decades, how far behind working Americans have retreated since the new century began and how much more everything costs today — think health care, for example — $1,182 doesn’t move the meter very much.

I was hoping that the speaker would say middle-class working families would get a minimum $5,000 tax cut. That would be meaningful. Alas, that wasn’t the case.

I know the GOP proposal will change a bit before the House passes it over to the Senate for action , so perhaps the outsized benefits to the wealthiest Americans will be moderated in favor of the working people of this country. We shall see.

Meantime, I am reminded of a recent golf game I enjoyed with my friend, former State Sen. Randolph Townsend. We call him senator, and he answers that call every time. It’s not just because he has earned the respect that name confers, but because Randolph has always acted and still acts as a servant of the people and a steward of good and righteous government, whether on the job or not.

Since our golf games were suffering last week, we tried to tackle the weightier matters of the day. Tax cuts and reform were high on the list. We agreed with each other — that happens a lot when sanity prevails and progress is the goal — that getting large, blue-state Republican representatives to vote to “screw” their own constituents who get to deduct their state taxes from their federal burdens in favor of giving the richest Americans a few extra million dollars was probably too much of an ask.

So the senator asked the logical question: “Rather than fight for every vote and compromise tax reform into something unrecognizable, why don’t they do that which everyone can agree makes sense and will make a difference in peoples’ lives?”

I forgot how far I was from the green, stopped what I was doing and asked the question he was hoping I would ask. “ And what would that be, Senator?”

He explained what almost everyone has acknowledged is a treasure trove of U.S. dollars sitting offshore, just waiting to be invited back home. The number looks like $2,000,000,000,000. If I got enough zeros in there, that would be $2 trillion.

It is owned by companies like Apple that refuse to bring it back to the United States — it was made overseas — because the corporate tax rate is just too high, they believe.

So, here is where simple ideas can bear fruit when not confused with politics and immovable ideologies. That was a particular strength of Sen. Townsend when he was the workhorse and thought provoker of the Nevada Senate.

He suggested that instead of fighting over a tax cut, tax reform or tax-dodging effort that will inure to the benefit of the people who don’t need it at the expense of the people who must have it, why not lower the corporate tax rate for a period of two years from 35 percent to 15 percent?

That will give all of our companies that have parked the $2 trillion overseas the economic incentive to bring the money back home. The Treasury would get 15 percent of the booty and the American economy would get a $1.7 trillion shot in the arm.

A hole or two later we had worked out the particulars. It would only last for two years to encourage repatriation of the money. Those companies that didn’t bring their money home would see their corporate rates increase (shareholder pressure to act would be immense) to the point where they could never bring the money back. The only use to which the money could not be put would be on corporate stock buybacks and similar schemes.

The result would be almost $2 trillion of increased equipment purchases, salary increases, hiring increases and consumer spending to beat the band. In short, whatever benefits the Congress is trying to achieve through tax cuts and reform would be resolved with a bill that should have no opposition from anyone in any party and at any level.

And here is the good part: The benefits to the U.S. economy and a middle-class family of four would far outstrip the $1,182 that Speaker Ryan was trying to sell to the people of this country.

That’s an idea about which we should all be excited. And it can be done tomorrow!

Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.

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