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Mayor’s Corner: What did 10 years of Bush tax cuts for the rich get us?

By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.

Mayor of Lewiston

June 7 is a very special day for me. This year on that day I turned 66-years-old and my good friend Dr. Bernard Lown turned 90-years-old on the same day.

Lown is the 1938 Lewiston High School graduate, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and developer of the direct current defibrillator, which has saved hundreds of thousands of lives. In his honor, the South Bridge between Lewiston and Auburn was re-named the “Bernard Lown Peace Bridge.”

On another June 7 in 2001, President George W. Bush signed a bill cutting taxes by $1.35 trillion over 10 years.This was the first of several tax cuts that President Bush would sign, which would end up costing a total of two-and-a-half trillion dollars over a decade. He, and his allies in Congress, promised economic prosperity as a result.

Ten years later, it’s hard to find any evidence that the Bush tax cuts created the prosperity that was promised. Maine’s official unemployment rate in June 2001 was 3.3 percent. Today the seasonally adjusted rate is more than double that, 7.6 percent. Nationwide, the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent. Today it is 9.1 percent.

At the end of last year, supporters of Bush’s policies pushed through an extension of the Bush tax cuts for another two years. They held President Obama hostage on the ObamaCare package to get him to agree to extend the Bush tax cuts. Now, some lawmakers say they want to extend the tax cuts again into 2013 and beyond. Why would we want to add to the deficit when we so desperately need revenues to help offset the deficit?

Only a handful of Mainers—the super-rich—would benefit from an extension of the Bush tax cuts. In fact, according to new figures released by Citizens for Tax Justice, only the wealthiest one percent of Maine residents, who will have an average income of $851,020 in 2013, would receive an average tax cut of $41,813 in that year. That’s more than most Mainers make in a year.

By contrast, the poorest 60 percent of the state’s residents, with an average income of $29,073, would receive a tax cut of just $472 in 2013. Fair? Hardly!

The lawmakers who want to extend the tax cuts are the same lawmakers who claim that the federal deficit forces them to slash public services. State legislatures and Congress are considering painful cuts in essential services, public programs and the infrastructure that keeps our communities strong. At the same time, we’re considering giving another handout to the nation’s wealthiest individuals? It just doesn’t make sense.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a budget that would cut trillions of dollars in essential services like Medicare while giving trillions of dollars in additional tax cuts to the super-rich and to corporations in the form of lower rates, exemptions, loopholes and subsidies. Congressman Paul Ryan calls this approach a pathway to prosperity. I call it a road to ruin.

We can only get back on the path to prosperity by building a strong middle class. We can prosper by building an America that works for all of us, that rewards hard work with good wages and benefits, including affordable health care.

Congress should commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich by ending them and instead using the money to invest in American families. Instead of the cuts in student aid in the Republican budget, Congress could end the tax cuts for the rich and use the money to make college more affordable. Instead of cuts in Head Start, the money could be used to give more children a good start in an early education. At the very least, Congress could use that revenue to help cut the deficit.

Ending the Bush tax cuts for the rich is only the first step. To put our nation on a path to real economic recovery, Congress should invest in a budget that creates good jobs. A step in this direction would be passage of Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s Fairness in Taxation Act, which taxes millionaires and billionaires and works to close corporate loopholes that allow corporations to profit when they ship jobs and profits overseas.

And then here comes Republican Presidential Candidate Tim Pawlenty’s $11.3 trillion tax cut proposal. According to Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post: “Yes, you read that right. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center has done its analysis of the Pawlenty economic plan and concluded that would be the ten-year cost of the Pawlenty tax cuts, as compared to current law. If you assume that all the Bush tax cuts and other policies stay in place, the cost, according to the TPC estimates, would be a mere $7.6 trillion. To think of it another way, Pawlenty is proposing tax cuts that are the equivalent of taking the existing Bush tax cuts and tripling them over the next decade. In 2021 alone, the cuts would exceed $1.6 trillion compared to current law (that is, letting the Bush tax cuts expire), or $1 trillion compared to current policy (extending all the tax cuts and the accompanying patches to the alternative minimum tax.)”

In her column, it only gets worse—I will spare you!

We can learn from our recent history. While we can’t go back and change the decisions our government made on June 7, 2001, we can look forward to a prosperous tomorrow, but only if we don’t repeat the same mistakes. Certainly, Tim Pawlenty is destined to repeat our mistakes by adding to them by tripling those mistakes.

Simply to eliminate Pawlenty’s proposed tax cuts would nearly erase our deficit. It is high time to get real and not take from the middle class and our poor only to enrich the rich! Enriching the rich hasn’t worked for those Americans who work hard every day to make ends meet. Enriching the rich has done nothing to create jobs for those who have lost theirs.

At the end of last year, I warned that the Republicans would be after your Social Security and Medicare, and here we are! It is beyond me how anyone who works for a living and is unemployed could ever support these Bush-era tax cuts and even worse what some of these Republican presidential candidates are proposing.

If we truly want to work to eliminate our budget deficit, we need to end these ridiculous tax cuts that favor the rich, as trickle down isn’t working and never did. We need to end wars that cost us $2 billion a month and we need to make it difficult for American companies to move abroad in order to benefit their bottom line by employing people who manufacture for slave wages and we need to bring back our manufacturing here in this country to benefit our people.

I simply point to Carbonite, a company that has chosen to return their customer service call center back here to Lewiston from India. More of that needs to happen. There is nothing like good old American service and manufacturing by American workers.

Certainly Carbonite has come to that realization and has made it a reality that will benefit Maine workers and the company. Bravo to them!

See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.

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