President Joe Biden’s spending proposals are all pretty popular right now; turns out people actually like it when government uses taxpayer money to do big, important things like rebuild the country’s infrastructure. They even like his proposal to raise taxes on the rich to help pay for these programs.
This is where the previous president, what’s-his-name, really missed a golden opportunity to make himself genuinely popular. Big infrastructure packages are hits with voters, while tax breaks for the rich are not. This is what forty years of tax revolts, austerity, a general allergy to spending on things that aren’t wars, and a yearlong pandemic does; it makes us remember that government exists to do the things that nobody else can. Like I said last year: the era of small government is finally over. Take that, Ronald Reagan.
So now it’s open season on billionaires, right? We can take Elon Musk and hold him upside down by the ankles until all the loose change, balls of lint, and Gamestop stock falls out of his pockets, can’t we?
Much as I’d love to, and much as they deserve just that, it looks like not so much. Because while the public likes the idea of soaking Daddy Warbucks for all he’s worth so we can build a tunnel from New Haven to Long Island, most politicians are still hesitant.
That includes Gov. Ned Lamont, who has been clashing with liberals in the General Assembly over hiking capital gains taxes. Lamont is fearful of scaring off rich people who have tentatively settled in Connecticut after being scared out of New York by the pandemic. Rich people, it turns out, are very like feral cats living under a house, but instead of bolting at the sight of people or dogs, the wealthy flee for South Carolina at the first sign of a tax on their stocks.
See, the real estate market in Connecticut is booming right now, and that’s a new experience for a lot of us. People want to live here? They’re paying lots of money to live here? … Wow. Okay! Gov. Lamont and moderate Democrats are in the “we’re on a lucky streak right now, don’t ruin it” camp, while liberals want to raise taxes so we can take care of the poor people who are already here.
This is the classic Connecticut conundrum. If we tax the rich, they’ll leave. If we don’t tax the rich, the poor suffer and inequality grows. We depend way too much on taxes paid by the rich, which unfortunately means they have an absurd amount of leverage over us. That’s why I would rather have had highway tolls; at least it would have been a stream of income for the state that rich people couldn’t threaten to take away by moving somewhere else.
And it’s the threat that matters. 99% of them never actually go. But they can always hold that over our heads as a reminder that, no matter how much they complain, they own us.
This time, I say call them on it. Tax them without fear. If they all do leave, at least we’ll have a few years of money we can use to make the lives of the poor better. And maybe we can turn their crappy McMansions into public housing.
There’s another wrinkle here. Lamont also wants to leave the tax hikes to Joe Biden, because then all of the states would be taxed equally and we’d be able to forego the destructive race to the bottom with the other 49 for once.
That’s not a bad point. If everyone’s taxed equally, then the billionaires can’t threaten to up stakes and go to another state. I mean, sure, they can park their cash in a shady offshore tax haven, but at least we wouldn’t be left with a yacht full of op-eds about why taxes in Connecticut are making a very nice, white, rich family leave Glastonbury forever.
But we need to remember the most important lesson of the pandemic and the last administration: we can’t count on the federal government. Congress is full of hesitant, concerned Democrats like Ned Lamont who aren’t about to vote for tax hikes. That’s why we need to act like we’re on our own, because waiting for Congress to do the right thing might mean we’re waiting for a long, long time.
So how much is too much when it comes to taxing the rich? How about we start doing it, and we can figure that one out when we get there?
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.