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Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Yesterday the President unveiled his budget for 2005. Included in this budget were cuts in almost every domestic program and increases in military spending. Domestic programs such as education, infrastructure repair and more will get less funding. Many domestic programs will be completely cut, including many educational programs. These are cuts that states and middle class wage earners will feel the most.

Revenues are generated 43 percent by taxes paid by individuals, 11 percent by corporations and payroll taxes (social security, Medicare). Walmart made $3 billion in profits in the third quarter last year yet does not offer medical insurance to a majority of their workers. The reality is that those who work for minimum wage at Walmart not only do not for the most part have health insurance, they also pay more towards the defense of this country than does the corporation that employs them. Further, the low wages of Walmart workers often results in Walmart employees seeking medical care at the expense of the government, which means taxpayers are footing the bill for Walmart employees health care.

A strong economy is based on jobs creation, and not just any jobs. A majority of the jobs created in this country in the last three years have been "service" jobs that do not pay well nor do they include benefits such as medical insurance. Even worse, companies are sending the white collar jobs that middle America depends on for the "American Dream" out of the country. How do we as a nation start to work together on these issues? There must be a discussion of how these issues effect us in our daily lives, and how as Americans we can work together towards a solution in the area of taxes and jobs.

First, I do applaud the president for addressing a little known yet looming tax hike for the middle class, the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). The AMT was created in the late 1960's so that wealthy individuals would be required to pay at least a minimum tax (due to exemptions and writeoffs some taxpayers with incomes of $100,000 were not being taxed at all, thus the congress enacted the AMT which stated that everyone would pay at least a "minimum" tax). The problem is that the AMT was never indexed for inflation. The bottom line is that today many Americans who earn 70,000 and up will face the AMT. If you are "dinged" by the AMT you will not be allowed to deduct your mortgage, your children or other traditional deductions.

This explanation is far from complete and only begins to touch on the AMT. To learn more about what the AMT does and doesn't do, please go to http://www.brookings.edu/views/op-ed/gale/20040121amt.htm.

The problem with the president's proposal is that his fix is simply a temporary stop gap measure. The AMT will effect more and more Americans each year, ultimately forcing 36 million American wage earners to pay more in taxes (even under the tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003). To fix the AMT will mean a loss in revenues to the government equal to the amount of money the IRS takes in for an entire year. This tax MUST be addressed, and quickly.

Secondly, there must be action on how corporations are allowed to pay so little towards the defense of this country, so little towards the infrastructure THEY use and yet continue to see their profits rise while a majority of their employees see lower wages and higher taxes. One solution would be to enact credits to corporations that create jobs here in America. Not just any job, but good paying jobs, the kind that corporations are currently sending to places like India. Secondly, corporations that pay higher wages with benefits to their employees should also be given tax credits.

Our economy is based almost 70 percent on consumer spending, without solid wages Americans simply will not have the "expendable" income that allows them to spend and keep our economy strong. Even more so we must remember that corporations use the infrastructure that we all depend on, yet they contribute far less to the maintanence and upkeep. Roads and bridges are one example of the benefit corporations receive at taxpayer expense. Wage earners pay not only for the upkeep, but the building of new freeways, yet corporations send trucks and employees over these very same roads, paying 11 percent of the tax revenue, while wage earners py 43 percent. Fairness dictates that those who profit should also pay into the upkeep.

The argument that corporations create jobs and opportunities for us is well heeded, at the same time we must look at all facets of corporate America.

Presented here are just a few thoughts on where we are going as a nation. Are we going to strive for "me the person" or "we the nation?" If we choose "me the person" over "we the nation," where will we end up? Can Americans find it within themselves to discuss the merits of arguments without attacking one another?

Just food for thought on a rainy day here.

Monday, February 02, 2004

What is going on in America? Has talk radio turned us all into "haters" and "name callers?" Does anyone really care to discuss issues anymore? Does anyone really care to find a solution based on fact rather than ideology? Is there a way to come together based on a solution rather than fighting about the problem?

Life in America can be fast paced, on the edge, and sometimes more "soundbite" then reality. This is a place to discuss the issues, to banter back and forth in a civilized way, presenting facts and opinion with respect. This is a place where we can start a discussion about who we are, why we are and how as Americans we can start to see how our differences can someday become a unifying force.

When we stop the yelling and screaming, when we stop worrying about being right and start looking for solutions we will be better off as a country.

We can be better than that which seeks to bring out the worst in all of us.

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