I believe in having clear and achievable goals. For instance, my goals for today are:
1) Avoid work.
2) Drink beer.
Residing at the opposite end of the goal spectrum are most politicians, whose agendas look like this:
1) Avoid workable solutions.
2) Tax beer.
It should come as no surprise to anyone with the IQ of a bottle cap that this blend of practiced vagueness and fiscal malevolence is particularly common among pols engaged in the activity euphemistically known as "tax reform."
What a strange term. Taxes are just about the only societal ill considered appropriate for reform, rather than elimination. You never hear anyone advocating for "swine-flu reform" or "identity-theft reform" or "rabid-pit-bull reform." And while there have been attempts at reforming Democratic Governor John Baldacci, they only seem to have made him worse.
If I were attempting to "reform" taxes, my goals would be simple:
1) Reduce the overall tax burden.
2) Drink beer.
The tax-reform bill passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor — after some meddling that made it even less effective — achieves neither of these purposes. While it lowers the top rate on the state income tax for people making less than a quarter-million a year from a ridiculous 8.5 percent to a mildly humorous 6.5 percent, it expands the sales tax and raises the meals-and-lodging tax in ways that will be:
1) More annoying.
2) But not significantly more stable as a revenue source.
The reasons for this are twofold:
1) Politicians are not very smart.
2) Politicians are not very brave.
Before I explain how these deficiencies can be corrected (I'm busy here at the moment — could you just put the brain-transplant machine in the corner, right next to the testicular enhancement device), let me make it clear that I'm not singling out supporters of this bill, nearly all of them Democrats, for criticism. The faults mentioned above apply equally to Republicans, whose competing plan to reform taxes consisted of:
1) Er ...
2) Um ...
3) Drink beer.
But back to reforming tax reform (which is sort of like curing the cure for acne — although given the side effects of modern miracle drugs, maybe that's not such a bad idea), here's what won't work:
1) A people's veto campaign to block the law before it takes effect. It would be almost impossible to organize the paid staff and volunteers, not to mention raise the money, needed to gather 55,000 signatures in less than 90 days. That effort would have to be backed by businesses, and, except for those small segments of the corporate community that will be hit with the expanded taxes — car-repair shops, carpet cleaners, movie theaters, candy sellers, miniature golf courses — most of the commercial sector is more relieved than angry about the bill that passed.
2) Using the measure as a political issue against Democrats in the 2010 election, in an effort to boost the GOP and its own tax-reform plan. Except, as noted above, Republicans don't have a tax-reform plan. Until they come up with something, nobody with more smarts than the average blueberry is going to pay attention.
3) Drinking beer.
Here's what might fix the problem:
1) The GOP opposed the original plan because ... well, because that's what Republicans in this state do, they oppose things. But the minority party also complained that once the economy recovers, the expanded sales tax would rake in lots of extra money, which will fund lots of new spending. The GOP is correct (I know, amazing, isn't it). To make sure the reformed tax structure doesn't result in an unsustainable spending spree, the state needs tough limits on expenditures. I suggest that a cap kick in when the state budget again reaches its pre-recession level, about $6.3 billion for two years. That will allow Democrats to restore some of the more onerous budget cuts, but it will prevent them from going beyond that point with expensive new programs. After that, state spending would grow only at the rate of inflation plus population growth.
2) Baldacci will be gone after next year. A new governor might have sufficient intestinal fortitude to back further expanding the sales tax (my preference would be to put it on everything except grocery staples and health care) and further reducing the income tax, say to something south of 4 percent. Avoid the whining about how this would hurt the poor by giving them a full sales-tax rebate. Finally, some stability and common sense.
3) Dedicate any excess revenue to refilling the state's Rainy Day Fund (this time, put in enough to actually handle a major fiscal crisis), repairing the state's infrastructure (in lieu of gasoline tax hikes), and tax rebates.
4) If there's money left over, buy beer. As noted above, that won't solve the problem, but who cares.
Don't just sit there drinking. E-mail me at email@example.com.