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Nixon, when in China.

Prompted by my grudging paen to a conservative Christian Republican, Michael Bowen of Alabama writes to let me know of his blog, A Minority of One, which he’s dedicating to covering Governor Bob Riley’s (bold! audacious!) plan to render Alabama’s tax code as somewhat more progressive than its current state. I’ve added him to the linchinography, and heartily commend him to your attention on this topic: he’s dug in and found some fascinating stuff. Like the fact that, while timber companies, largely out-of-state conglomerate, own 25% of the state’s land, due to a quirk in the current state tax structure, tax revenues from timber and agriculture properties combined bring in less than 2% of the state’s property tax revenue. [Ed. note— Timber companies own 25% of Alabama’s timberland. Timberland makes up 71% of the state’s land. That 71%, owned by corporations and individuals, brings in 2% of the state’s property tax revenue. Correction supplied in comments by Mr. Bowen. Management humbly apologies for the misreading.] Or that the national Republicans are taking note, and do not like what Riley’s doing; Dick Armey’s coming to Alabama to denounce the plan. Or the rather astonishing efforts of the Mobile Register to spin their own poll: “Survey finds voters oppose governor’s $1.2 billion tax plan,” says the headline—of a poll that’s a 44/43 split with a 5-point margin of error.

Best, perhaps, is his take-down of the odious Christian Colation of Alabama. Their refutation of the proposed tax plan, for instance, cites the Bloomberg Wealth Manager rates Alabama’s tax plan as 9th in the US in terms of “wealth friendliness” towards families, and gives Alabama’s current tax code a B+. Sounds like things aren’t such a raw deal after all, right? Well, Bowen did his homework, and looked at the specs of that Bloomberg Wealth Manager survey. Here’s how they defined the families towards which the Alabama tax code is so wealth-friendly:

He used four hypothetical families whose sources of wealth are highly concentrated in either wages, real assets, mixed (real and financial) assets, or retirement income. Well, that seems fair enough. Here are the asset profiles that he used for the four families:
For the family that derives most of its wealth from salary, we assigned $500,000 in adjusted gross income; $12,500 in long-term capital gains; $12,500 in municipal-bond interest from another state; a home value of $250,000; and spending of $30,000 ($10,000 on food, $2,000 on prescriptions, $1,000 on other medications, 1,000 gallons of gas).
For the family that derives most of its wealth from real assets, we assigned $100,000 in adjusted gross income; $12,500 in long-term capital gains; $12,500 in municipal-bond interest from another state; a home value of $1 million; and spending of $20,000 ($10,000 on food, $2,000 on prescriptions, $1,000 for other medications, 600 gallons of gas).
For the family that derives most of its wealth from mixed assets, we assigned $500,000 in adjusted gross income; $50,000 split among long-term capital gains, municipal-bond interest from another state, and interest from Treasury securities; a home value of $500,000; and spending of $25,000 ($10,000 on food, $2,000 on prescriptions, $1,000 for other medications, 600 gallons of gas).
For the family in retirement, we assigned no earned income; $100,000 split among long-term capital gains, municipal-bond interest from another state, and interest from Treasury securities; $30,000 in pensions; $23,868 in Social Security; a home value of $500,000; and spending of $25,000 ($10,000 on food, $4,000 on prescriptions, $2,000 for other medications, 1,000 gallons of gas).

Let’s review some basic facts, shall we?

Wealth-friendly, indeed. This isn’t class war; the war is fucking over. This is a class empire. With oppressed class colonies struggling under class viceroys watching their resource-based monoculture economies of timber and chickens and minimum-wage employment get sucked dry right out from under them. Dick Armey is lying when he says of Riley’s plan, “Family budgets are already stretched to the limit and most can’t absorb the strain of losing more money from their paychecks. The Governor shouldn’t pass the mistakes of government on to the hard-working people of Alabama.” That is not what Riley’s doing. Riley’s working to shift the tax burden from them what hasn’t to them what has, and them what has are getting upset. It’s that simple.

Only Nixon could go to China; only Clinton could “reform” welfare. Only a conservative Republican governor, perhaps, could have gotten as far as Riley has in turning back the regressive tax tide so beloved of folks like Grover “drown it in a bathtub” Norquist. That doesn’t mean that Democrats and progressives and moderate Republicans (where the hell are you guys?) who are sick and tired and terrified of the “wiped clean” mentality can’t capitalize on this struggle. Bowen notes a number of editorials from around the country who are taking note of what Governor Riley’s trying to do. Alabama is far from the only state reeling under a budget crisis imposed by the federal government’s gross dereliction of duty. It’s far from the only state whose regressive code could use an overhaul. This has legs. This is a chink in the teflon. This is a turning point. This is the bellweather and the watershed. The day of 9 September, when Alabamians go to the polls to decide the fate of Riley’s plan, is going to be a red-letter day.

And as of right now, I’m cheering for Riley—a conservative Republican—all the way.

  1. Michael Bowen    Jun 21, 02:43 AM    #
    Just wanted to make a clarification here. The timber companies own 25% of the timberland in Alabama... the rest of that timberland is owned by miscellaneous individuals. Now timberland makes up 71% of our state so that's still a huge chunk of land. And here's where it gets ugly... that 71% mass of land (owned by both timber companies and individuals) is what produces only 2% of the property tax revenue in Alabama. Yes, it's even worse than you originally thought. I keep looking for hard figures to compare what these companies (Weyerhaeuser and Boise Cascade) pay in other states but I can't find any firm figures on the net. No big surprise that they aren't making those figures readily available.

  2. --k.    Jun 21, 04:19 AM    #
    Thanks, Michael. Apologies for the misreading. But ouch.

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