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Paying Our Fair Share

Paying Our Fair Share
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BY DON PORTOLESE

While it is not the sum total of a candidate, there are some important things to factor in when it comes to how our presidential nominees handle their financial dealings. Some are generous, some cheap, some frugal and others a bit too astute for their own good. That is what appears to be the case with Donald Trump. And it’s not just his personal dealings with the IRS, but his lackadaisical approach to taxation in general that should have people worried.

Trump is the first presidential candidate in forty years not to release his tax returns. During last Monday’s debate, Hillary Clinton point-blank said that he had something to hide. Unruffled, Trump clung to his disproven excuse that he can’t release his taxes until his audit is completed. The IRS (certainly part of the liberal conspiracy to keep America from being great again) has made it clear that Trump is free to show the world his income tax forms. Yet, he refuses to release them. It is this obtuse denial of fact that makes his motivations clear. There can be no other reason than the fact that he does indeed have something to hide. What’s worse is his underlying smugness when confronted about this issue.

Trump has aggressively sought out loopholes and other ways to game the system with many of his development projects. While many applaud him for being a good businessman, maybe they should stop clapping and use their two hands for something more productive: count how much they paid in taxes last year and see if that equates with the percentage in taxes Mr. Trump paid. In the past, Trump has paid 0 percent in taxes and bragged about his shrewd avoidance of the taxman. He did more than insinuate that during last Monday’s debate: “I’m smart,” he interrupted Clinton as she denounced him for paying such a low tax rate.

Although Trump later walked back his comments, or, better, denied he had said them, it is pretty obvious that he has been playing the system for years. His excuse: “I will say this; I hate the way our government spends our taxes, because they are wasting our money.” Does that somehow justify not paying taxes? Does Trump disagree with the tax money allocated for things like roads, sewer systems, lighting, etc., that all make his empire possible? If Trump wins, do I get to declare I will not pay my taxes because I don’t like what President Trump spends my tax dollars on?

People need to focus on taxation, because this is the single most important problem facing us as a nation. Tax breaks for the wealthy have led to the largest income gaps in modern history. The disparity between rich and poor is growing at an alarming rate. And this creates a disparity in opportunity, sowing the seeds for even greater divergence. With many minorities at the bottom of our economic ladder, this also feeds into our racial tensions. We need a candidate who isn’t willing to play so loosely with our tax code if we ever hope to close this gap.

This disparity is no more apparent than in how our corporations (those that don’t have tax havens overseas) are taxed. Citizens for Tax Justice found that from 2008 to 2012, of 288 corporations surveyed, an average tax of 19.4 percent was paid over this five-year period. They also found that companies like Boeing, General Electric, Priceline.com and Verizon had paid no federal income tax during the same period. The fact is that corporations almost never pay the full 35 percent and actually pay far less or nothing at all. Mr. Trump and his party need to stop using that elusive number as reason to lower our corporate tax rate.

Granted, this has been an ongoing problem in our tax code. Paid-for politicians, including Senator Clinton, have let these tax loopholes go on far too long. There is inherent corruption in our tax system, because the only way to get into office is by receiving donations from the very forces that need to be reined in. Nevertheless, Donald Trump can hardly claim he is the one to bring this problem to the fore. Perhaps through a previous scandal or bankruptcy, but certainly not due to some superior morality or repentance for past pecuniary sins.

Even more ironic is Mr. Trump’s answer when asked about corporations that avoid paying taxes during a CBS interview: “They make a fortune. They pay no tax. It’s ridiculous, okay?” Okay, Donald, but does that mean you’re willing to pay the back taxes that you owe from when you paid nothing in federal income tax?

Rather than 35 percent, Trump proposes a preposterous tax rate of 15 percent for companies based in the U.S. That would create a shortfall of devastating proportions to our economy and add ‘ugely’ to our deficit. Trump may be right in proposing a loophole-free flat-rate for established corporations. If these companies paid the same tax rate, it could certainly be adjusted from the current 35 percent. However, slashing it by more than half simply cannot maintain, let alone boost, our economy the way Trump disingenuously claims it will.

There is also the no-tax mantra of fellow republicans that will further prevent Trump from doing anything meaningful to fix our tax system. Conservatives cling to the same old trickle-down economics, and, despite his rhetoric about the middle class, Trump is in lockstep with them. If the fat cats are fed well enough, there will be enough crumbs that fall from the table to keep the masses satisfied. Well, the cats are getting fatter and they are getting more insular with their economies. Wealthy people may create jobs, but they contribute far less to the overall economy than middle or even lower income people. Even if he decided to go rogue, against the wishes of his party, Trump would be stonewalled at every turn. So, don’t expect any progress there.

Trump and his party whine about welfare for human beings, but say nothing about the far costlier problems of corporate welfare. It’s not that some companies don’t need to be given special consideration. Start-ups and small businesses deserve all the help they can get. However, let’s firmly establish the definition of a small business, for republicans have been pretty loose with that term. True start-ups with proven potential deserve assistance in the form of grants, tax breaks and subsidies. However, large corporations, still on the American dole, need to be weaned off corporate welfare, so we can stop choking our economy. (We can start with the 4.8 billion dollars in subsidies the oil industry receives every year.) We need to put that money toward small business, which is what will revitalize our economies on Main Street. We need to invest our tax revenues in the new industries of the future.

Trump and the republicans can cry Solyndra all they want. However, as the party of business, they can’t deny that there is opportunity in the industries of the future. Trump businesses have certainly failed. Did that stop the candidate from investing in and developing other real estate projects? Should we abandon renewable energies or more efficient ways to operate our country just because a few businesses in this sector failed? Solar panels and solar cells will be the energy trends of the future. China currently dominates the solar industry. How do we expect to maintain our technological dominance if we refuse to invest our tax dollars in the future?

One thing Trump did get right during the debate was the need to stem the flow of jobs and tax dollars from this country. Companies that leave the U.S. should no longer be able to hide behind US tax exempt status if they move their operations to other countries. This will greatly reduce the offshoring of jobs. Trump seemed passionate about this. However, how can I believe a man who has lied or changed his mind so often during this election? How can I not think he is merely saying this so he can get elected? Given how cozy he is with Wall Street and how proud he is of paying little taxes, how can I not feel that he believes there is a special set of rules for him and his ilk?

Bottom line, we need to fix, not rig our tax system further in favor of the wealthy. While most politicians are clearly compromised by corporate America, we need a president with a more realistic approach to fixing our tax system. That should start with a president that has a better grasp of math and a greater willingness to pay her fair share in taxes. Let me see, who might that be?

 

 

 

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