Opinion

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Uncommon Ground

Tax Woes

A better process to produce real tax reform would involve talking to constituents and holding face-to-face townhalls

Congress has to produce something. One thing it might agree on is tax cuts. What our Republican-controlled Congress does in the fall remains unknown.

Until Congress returns to the old-fashion way of doing things, like holding hearings in committee, debating issues thoroughly, and amending bills, most details remain mysterious until the last minutes of the legislative process.

A better process to produce real tax reform would involve talking to constituents, holding face-to-face townhalls, and taking local input from Montanans. But for many politicians that’s hardly realistic in todays’ secret decision-making.

With Montana’s revenue shortfall, coupled with a constitutional requirement to balance the budget, no one is much talking about state-level income tax cuts. Any state reforms will have to wait until 2019, when the regular session of the Montana Legislature convenes.

But Congress spends as much money as it wants. Maybe this fall constituents will find out if more than half of Congress’ members are willing to increase national debt to get a tax cut.

Everyone in Congress would be helped by an income tax cut. Our elected Congressional members sent by voters to Washington, D.C., all earn way more than the vast majority of voting Montanans.

Montanans work hard. We own businesses and hire employees. We are farmers, teachers, nurses, carpenters, and construction workers. We write, work in the tech, tourism and recreation industry.

We labor in our forests, the rails, mines, and fields. We build stuff and do it well.

Montanans are also retirees. It’s a great place to retire. Montana possesses open lands, clean waters, and our great outdoors. The community and public amenities in places like Whitefish are friendly and abundant. Who wouldn’t want to retire here?

If Congress held tax-cut hearings, what they’d likely hear from many Montanans is that working class people, small business owners, and retirees deserve to be at the front of any tax cut line.

Someone will get a tax cut. The process demands it. It should be those working and creating the real jobs on the streets, fields and forests of Montana.

If Congress wanted to help the pocketbooks of Montanans, it would cut payroll taxes that employees and small local businesses pay, then backfill to equalize the trust. Likewise, cut the self-employment tax rate for workers like carpenters and drywallers.

Congress could help local taxpayers by making refundable the child tax or earned income credits. Or make a realistically sized health insurance tax credit available to everyone. Increase the standard deduction without increasing tax rates.

But Congress isn’t asking us for input. It’s the old, they know best, trust them, routine. I wish we could. I might be losing some confidence in our federal government. Dang it. I’ll try harder.

Politicians routinely say all sorts of nonsensical stuff about legislation. Stuff that’s not really in the bill. Yet somehow, saying something is better than saying nothing.

That concept worked poorly during the health-care debates where politicians routinely discounted the actual effects of the proposed legislation in favor of firebrand rhetoric aimed at their election bases.

Politics is about feelings. With policy, many non-partisan sources help evaluate what the bill actually does. A reasonable Congress would willingly tell us how much their proposed tax cut would help.

How much are our tax breaks? How much will the national debt go up as a result of our savings, is the debate. And what services do Montanans have to give up in order to receive our tax cuts is germane to the discussion.

It’s also why Congress is writing a tax cut bill during their budgetary process.

Tax cuts, sure. But take your time, let Montanans participate, and do it right. We’re all for simple, just not more expensive.

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