The Miami Herald
January 27, 2002
By Carol Marbin Miller

In a state where nearly a third of all crimes are drug-related, the Department of Corrections has approved a budget cut that will eliminate the bulk of drug treatment among inmates and greatly reduce the state’s program to help drug addicts outside the prison system. The cuts – expected to save Florida taxpayers $13 million this fiscal year – will eliminate in-house drug treatment programs at all but four of Florida’s 55 major prisons . . . [and] reduce by 34% the number of beds available to treat drug addicts at 20 residential treatment programs throughout the state.

Say you were the governor of Florida, which has no state income tax. Would you cut sales taxes, which everyone pays? You certainly would not! Would you cut property taxes, which most average Floridians pay? You certainly would not! Would you cut classroom sizes, to try to give elementary school kids the best possible start in life? You certainly would not!

No, you’d look at the state’s many problems and challenges, weigh your priorities, and cut taxes on the rich. Listen: you can’t do everything, so you do the most important thing.

That’s what Jeb Bush seems to have concluded as Governor of Florida, and that’s what his older brother seems to have concluded as President of the United States.

Soon after he took office, Jeb cut the Intangible Property Tax in half. Where Floridians with multi-million-dollar stock and bond portfolios had long had to fork over two-tenths of one percent of the total each year, now they fork over just one-tenth of one percent – a 50% cut. (In fairness, some loopholes were apparently tightened to make it harder to avoid the tax.* Then again, the tax is even less onerous than it sounds – if it sounds at all onerous – because U.S. Treasury securities, Florida municipal bonds, and retirement nest eggs are all exempted from the calculation, and because any tax that is paid becomes a deduction against your federal income tax.)

Another way to have reduced this tax burden would have been to greatly increase the exempt amount for everyone. With a higher threshold, almost no one would have had to pay it – cutting down on paperwork for a lot of taxpayers and Tallahassee employees – and those who did still have to pay it would only have had to pay it on amounts above that higher floor. But Governor Bush apparently felt this would give the truly wealthy insufficient tax relief, so he just cut the rate in half.

In a vacuum, of course, that was a nice thing to do. Not important in any way – even at two-tenths of one percent, the tax was hardly more than a nuisance. But nice nonetheless. What guy with $5 million in mutual funds (say), doesn’t appreciate having to pay Florida only $5,000 instead of $10,000?

But we don’t live in a vacuum, everything’s related, and so we get front page lead stories in the Miami Herald like the one excerpted above.

‘Make no mistake,’ the Herald quotes Broward County chief assistant public defender Howard Finkelstein – who himself battled drug addiction 14 years ago – ‘When we get done crunching the numbers . . . human lives will be lost or go unrepaired, and misery will be spread from generation to generation.’

But first things first. Do you know what it costs to resurface a driveway in Coral Gables? To outfit a private plane? And if the rich have drug problems – if their daughters are impersonating doctors and calling in phony prescriptions – they can afford to get help.

*UPDATE: I may have been a bit TOO fair.  Whatever loophole tightening they did became moot the following year: Jeb eliminated the tax altogether.  The 50% cut in the rate became a 100% cut: to zero.  The ultimate loophole.

The New York Times
January 31
By Robert Pear

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 – Even though unemployment has increased sharply in recent months, President Bush’s budget will seek cuts in several job-training programs for laid-off workers and young adults most affected by the rise in unemployment, budget documents and federal officials say.

Bush administration officials question the effectiveness of some of the jobs programs, which Congress created with overwhelming bipartisan support four years ago.

The United States Conference of Mayors sent a protest letter this week to the White House criticizing an administration plan to cut ‘youth opportunity grants’ to $45 million next year from $225 million this year.

It’s all part of the economic stimulus plan, I guess. As is cutting $9.1 billion out of federal highway spending, a 29% cut from last year.

A friend from Portland, Oregon, writes: ‘The President visited a job training center here about six months ago and last week announced that because of the war, they wouldn’t be able to fund that any longer.’ The rest of his message was unprintably disrespectful of the President. But if people really understood the extent to which the balance of the previous eight years has been shifted in favor of the rich and powerful – nothing against the poor and middle-class, mind you, but it’s just time the rich got a better shake – I think they would be upset.

(In 1980, according to figures from Business Week, CEOs of large corporations earned 42 times as much as the average worker – compared with 531 times as much in 2000. So you can imagine how their tax bills have sky-rocketed. That must be why it’s so important to cut taxes for those at the top, even if it means ending drug treatment or job training programs, or halving the budget for alternative energy research.)

Let me conclude with this clip, which I’ve already posted here once. Bear in mind as you read it that we devote less than 1% of our $2 trillion federal budget to foreign aid.

The New York Times
January 29
By Joseph Kahn

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 – The Bush Administration has rejected an international proposal to double foreign aid in the wake of the war in Afghanistan, contending that poor countries should make better use of the assistance they now receive, diplomats said today.

What are we thinking? Can the solution to every problem really be tax cuts for the best off? Is this really America at our best and brightest?


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