Score one for Grover Norquist, the national anti-tax leader who, supported by the far-right Koch brothers, requires legislators to commit to never increase taxes. Opposition to a state sales tax is fully in line with Norquist’s wishes.
The heading chosen for Derek Hitt’s guest column (Missoulian, Oct. 29), “Unions denounce sales tax,” encourages readers who support unions to oppose a state sales tax. Montana’s unions and Democratic leaders have a long tradition of opposition to a state sales tax. The primary reason given is that such a tax, being “regressive,” is unfair to low- and middle-income individuals and families. This rationale is seriously flawed.
First, the “regressive” argument is overblown. Most U.S. states, as well as the so-called “socialist/progressive” countries of Europe, long ago implemented taxes on sales (VATs and RSTs). Jurisdictions successfully address the “regressive” argument by exempting items such as food and children’s clothing, by providing refundable tax credits, and by other government action.
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Second, public services financed by tax revenue are an important “progressive” element in society — benefiting middle and lower income families the most. To provide public services, tax revenue is required. Think about those benefiting most from government support for preschool, after-school, child care, mental health care, family leave, affordable housing, income-support, infrastructure (think Flint, Michigan), public transportation, education and health programs. These services open opportunities and enable productive employment.
Third, following on the above points, government services and income-support programs are, and have been, central to improving income and wealth equality in America. Higher tax rates on upper income brackets play a role in the distribution of a nation’s income and wealth, but far more important have been programs such as Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and unemployment insurance — all programs that require tax revenues, as do state and local programs.
Norquist and his conservative funders have reason to be pleased. With Democrats joining Republicans in opposition to new taxes, a Montana state sales tax is dead and needed public services will go unfunded. I hope to live long enough to see this change. Only then will we have the quality education, health and social services that Montanans deserve.