Governor Burgum, have you no decency?

When Governor Burgum – joined by a huge majority in the House — proposed more income tax cuts, the remarks of Boston lawyer Joseph Welch came to mind.

During the height of the post-war communism scare, Senator Joe McCarthy claimed that the government reeked with communists and ended up in the Army-McCarthy confrontation in 1954.

When the Army hired Welch to be its counsel, McCarthy charged that one of Welch’s attorneys was tied to a communist organization, to which Welch responded: “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”

With an income tax next to nothing, the governor and the House proposed to the recent special session to cut the tax further, something that would benefit the wealthy the most.

Who’s hard-earned dollars?

And don’t cry about taxing the hard-earned dollars of the wealthy. North Dakota’s surplus that is being given away comes from oil revenue and not the hard-earned dollars of the working poor.

The narrow focus on the income tax by state policy makers seems to preempt options that would help low income folks. Outside of oil taxes, the sales tax is the largest source of state revenue – paid disproportionately by low-income consumers.

That means that the tax is regressive. Instead of looking at giving relief where it is needed most, the governor and legislators have been relieving the wealthy without any consideration for fairness in the tax system. Every time they have met in the past 10 years, their only consideration has been the income tax cuts.

Income tax a pittance

With the North Dakota income tax a pittance, it is time to look at options in the regressive sales tax. Low-income folks, including the elderly, spend most of their monthly income on consumer goods – mostly food and clothes.

To reduce regressivity, a number of states exempt groceries, some even exempt clothing. I have not heard this being an option in discussions to cut the income tax.

In North Dakota, it seems that the wealthy, as represented by legislators, would like a system in which they paid no taxes. Every session gets them closer to that goal.

Some states provide for an income tax credit which does no good when the poor have so little income to report. Back before you were born when I was tax commissioner, Indiana gave low-income folks a calculated refund for sales taxes paid without regard to the income tax.

Rebates for low income

I am not sure if the effort survived but when our governor and Legislature are handing out refunds, they ought to consider giving flat rebates to low income people who are being overtaxed by the sales tax system.

If there is anything like ethics in our civil society, it seems that making the poor pay a disproportionate of their incomes in taxes should be deemed immoral. Because it is.

Why are moral values left behind the door when self interest rears its ugly head and those who are able take their share of the benefits while paying the least in taxes?

Have we no decency when we justify hogging more than our share? Have we no decency when we unabashedly grab everything we can get whether it is fair or unfair?

The governor and the Legislature need a good dose of morality. Let’s hope it shows up before the next legislative session.


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