The Commerce News
July 21, 1999
Linder's Bill No More Than A Starting Point
Kudos to Rep. John Linder for wanting to simplify the American
tax code. Having said that, his proposal for a 23 percent national
sales tax is fraught with uncertainties. Presumably, a 23 percent
tax on all new goods and services would offset the federal corporate
and individual income taxes, including Social Security, estate
and gift taxes, and would cause the American economy to grow
11 percent faster over the decade following implementation.
Pardon our skepticism. The "fairness" of a sales tax
is certainly an asset, and simplification of the tax code is
desirable, but replacing in one fell swoop a system that has
evolved over decades should not be done just to accommodate the
First, it is going to be very hard for Americans to adjust to
a national sales tax. Imagine walking into the Ford dealership
to buy a car, only to find out that instead of adding six percent
(the current state and local sales tax rate), one would add 29
percent. Talk about sticker shock. Even worse, the sales tax
would apply to new housing, but not to the subsequent sales of
the house. Under that scenario, it is going to be very hard to
sell new houses. Would-be homeowners would find their choices
limited to existing houses, and the demand would soon push up
the price of those structures as well.
In addition, retired people whose savings came from after-tax
dollars, would suddenly find themselves paying a huge tax as
they spend that money upon which they had already paid
taxes under the old system. That will be no problem for the wealthy,
whose capital gains will no longer be taxed, but for the middle
class and the poor whose savings are largely after taxes, the
erosion of buying power could be disastrous.
Linder proposes to offset some of the damage by offering a "universal
rebate" to equal the sales taxes paid on basic necessities.
It has long been part of the Republican philosophy that sending
money to Washington to be rebated back is bad business - inevitably,
one gets back less than one sends. The cost of sending monthly
checks to every American is nothing to sneer at either.
Part of the plan is to eliminate the Internal Revenue Service,
long a popular position of the Republicans. The hatred of the
IRS seems to stem partly from the arrogance of its guilty-till-proven-innocent
position, but equally from the fact that Republicans dislike
taxes so much they want to kill the agency in charge of collecting
them. The IRS may be eliminated, but a new bureaucracy will have
to be created to administer and enforce the new tax code.
While it should not be the main focus of any tax bill, the impact
on charitable organizations must be considered. Many donations
that are tax-deductible will dry up if the giver receives no
benefits. Who will pick up the contributions made to American
life and health if groups like the American Red Cross, American
Cancer Society, Habitat for Humanity, March of Dimes, United
Way and thousands of other groups from food closets to churches
find their ability to provide services severely diminished?
Linder's legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn.,
is a creation of a group calling itself Americans for Fair Taxation
and claiming 200,000 members. It is a special interest group
whose members at present are anonymous but are willing to raise
$20 million to promote the sales tax. What do they stand to gain?
The national sales tax is a concept deserving of consideration,
but the replacement of the entire tax code is not something that
can or should be done in one or two years. Before Congress votes
on such a measure, a lot of questions need to be answered and
all of the ramifications explored and fully understood. Linder's
bill may be a starting point, but it is no more than that.
The Commerce News
July 21, 1999
We Cover Good
News As Well As The Tragic
"Don't you take a picture of that child lying on the ground."
The occasion was a playground accident at the elementary school.
The speaker was the principal, eyes full of fire, warning me
not to photograph a boy writhing in pain from a broken arm.
I got the impression that if I took a picture, she'd whip me,
and at that moment, I suspect she could have.
I took pictures of the paramedics as they treated the boy just
the same, and she had more important things to do than to beat
up a photographer. Thank goodness.
Reporters and photographers for MainStreet Newspapers frequently
have similar experiences. The nature of our jobs sometimes puts
us at scenes of pain and tragedy. Sometimes a police officer
or rescue worker insists that we quit taking pictures, but we
do our jobs. Other times, ironically, people doing nothing more
than gawking out of curiosity seem offended by the photographer
who is there not out of a macabre curiosity, but to do his job.
None of us like going to accidents, fires or other tragedies.
We don't like seeing people in pain, and I certainly didn't enjoy
watching a child suffer the pain of a broken arm.
Maybe you think of the "vultures of the press" at times
like that, as though we hover around awaiting disaster so we
can swoop down and make matters worse by shooting photos. But
you also summon us vultures when it suits your purpose. I've
been called to take pictures of the accelerated readers at the
same school, or to photograph the winners of a poster contest.
And I went, because it's my job. Just between you and me, I'd
rather take a photo of five or six kids with blue and red ribbons
and big smiles than one of a child, face contorted in agony because
We "vultures" are hovering around awaiting your good
news too. We're there when the football team wins, just like
we are when it loses. We're there to cover the garden club planting
a tree at the park, the special programs at local schools, the
award winners, prize winners and special moments. We print birth
announcements and funeral notices.
When circumstances bring us to tragedy, we have no options. We
stay out of the way of firemen, EMS personnel, police and others
whose jobs are to render aid. We don't force our cameras into
your face, try to interview those in pain or look for people
who are suffering. We record the scene. We gather what information
we can. We are recording news and local history.
Some of us are practically human. We hurt for children who are
suffering. We empathize with the family whose home is on fire.
But we suppress our emotions, because we're there on business.
We're not sight-seers. We cover the news.
I admit to having, in addition to sympathy for the boy and for
the school staff members who were upset, a feeling of relief
that day. A broken arm heals. In fact, it has. What if he had
broken his neck? I'll never forget the tragedies of Teresa Ridling
at Commerce High School and Al Ledford at Commerce Middle School.
We take the news as it comes, the good and the bad. We prefer
the good, but we'll be there for the bad too. That's our job.