How to tell tax reform from ‘tax deform’

Jul. 07, 2014 @ 06:55 PM

My mother loves to tell the story of the 1959 hurricane that forced our family to flee our coastal home. After the storm, my father, a Marine sergeant, brought his platoon to our trailer park to stand everyone’s mobile home back upright.

When I heard about the sales tax hike on mobile homes that took effect this year, I wondered how many family budgets would be blown away as if by a hurricane. Mobile home buyers -- many of them military families -- will pay an additional $2,000 or more for this “home tax.” All while Raleigh preserves a sales tax cap on private yachts and jets.

Do Republican lawmakers—like U.S. Senate candidate and state House Speaker Thom Tillis -- think mobile-home buyers and other working families aren’t paying enough taxes already? Seems so. Other sales taxes went up too. Family-friendly tax deductions went down. The earned income tax credit -- 64,000 military and veteran families rely on it --was blown away.

Repeal of the estate tax adds insult to injury. All the recent tax changes give families making over $151,000 a big tax cut. But any family making less gets a big tax hike. Could Republican “tax reform” mean that those who inherit wealth they didn’t create pay less, but if you worked for every dime, you pay more? That’s not tax reform. I call that tax deform.

Are these tax hikes on working families what Tillis is so proud of when claiming to be the “leader of the conservative revolution” in Raleigh? The magazine American Conservative (“How Raleigh’s Republicans Forgot the Working Class,” August 2013) notes Tillis’ party’s fall in the polls: “This fall from grace was inevitable given policy choices that hurt working-class families…”

Yet here’s where this story get even stranger. There aren’t nearly enough North Carolinians making over $151,000 to elect these tax deformers. So where did the votes come from? Polling in 2012 shows that in the West, Midwest and Northeast, white, working class voters split evenly between Romney and Obama. But in Southeastern states like North Carolina, those voters went for Wall-Streeter Mitt Romney by three-to-one. That means voters earning well under $151,000 voted a super-majority of Republicans into the General Assembly and now we have to swallow a big Republican tax hike.

This isn’t the first time that white southerners have been led astray by the wealthy. In the 1840s Southern one-per-centers began sponsoring more than 30 magazines that falsely touted slave-ownership by the wealthy as having benefits that would -- in today’s language -- trickle down to all Southerners. (Will our children hear about that during any of the Civil War’s sesquicentennial events?) In 1861 my kinsman Canna Hyman and his two sons, Calvin and William, were called into the Confederate Army to defend slavery. According to our family history: “Someone came for them while they were plowing one day. They put their horses up and all three went away to the War and only one son, William, came back.”

Like most southerners, they didn’t own slaves, but were persuaded to give their lives, limbs and votes for the right of a few families to enrich themselves from slavery.

More recently, the Southern Strategy pursued by Republicans has replaced the New South’s coalition of working class whites, small-business owners, professionals, blacks and unionists with an Old South 2.0 coalition of the wealthy and struggling white workers. Once again, some one-per-centers, like the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch and Art Pope, sponsor magazines, TV shows and think tanks that spread a false hope that Reaganomics -- fewer regulations and tax cuts for the wealthy -- will also trickle down one day. But 30 years later, the facts show that tax cuts only lead to underpaid teachers, crumbling roads, stagnant wages and fewer jobs. It sure isn’t money that’s been trickling down onto the middle and working classes of North Carolina since Reaganomics brought us the Wall Street Recession.

If white, working class southerners want to see their children do well, we’ve got to stop waiting for good things to trickle down on us. And like my father and his Marines after that hurricane, we need to put our backs into righting these deformed tax policies that hurt the vast majority of North Carolinians.

Frank Hyman is a carpenter, stonemason and owner of Southern Working Class Consulting. He’s a Moral Monday arrestee and has held two elected offices in Durham.