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The Elbert Files: Cutting taxes


The copper-plated windows of the downtown library reflected the image of my friend K.C. It was a bright, cold day and his hooded figure was facing east as I approached.


“This will be interesting,” he said with a nod toward the Iowa Capitol.


“You mean the legislative session that starts next week?” I queried.


“When they return to town, it’s usually an occasion for celebration by businesses that cater to them. But I’m not sensing a lot of joy this year,” he said.


“Could be the COVID,” I said. “Who knew that it would still have so many of us by the throat two years in?”


“Could be,” K.C. said with a half cough that he muffled with a mitten. “But that’s not what I’m sensing.


“I’m sensing a lot of division,” he continued. “I’m sensing distrust, anger and fear. Our leaders have quit talking to each other, and that’s not a good sign.


“Republicans say they want to eliminate the income tax, and they probably have the votes to do it. But if they do, it won’t be pretty.


“It will create chaos. There won’t be enough money for education. Cities will have to cut essential services, like fire and police protection. There won’t be enough money to pay the electric bill, and street lights will go out, sewers will break and there won’t be money to repair them. And forget about having clean water.


“Every service government provides costs money, and a lot of it depends on the state income tax; if not directly, then indirectly,” he said. “Pull out the income tax and it’s like a Jenga game ? everything falls apart.”


“Isn’t that a little extreme?” I said. “Sure, the Republicans control state government, and they say they want to get rid of the income tax. But they say they will do it gradually and make sure there’s enough money to take care of education and all the other things.


“Besides,” I continued, “the state is sitting on a huge surplus that provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the tax structure.”


“You know what they should do with that surplus,” K.C. said. “They should use it to fix all the problems that have piled up in recent years. Use it to clean up the water. Use it to deploy meaningful broadband in rural areas, not some dinky digital product that will be overwhelmed by traffic before it’s even up and running.


“They could use it to fix the shortage of teachers and nurses and day care providers by providing incentives to pay them decent wages. They say they want to spur the economy. You’d be surprised how much it would spur if we started paying teachers, nurses and day care workers what they are really worth. The trickle-down effect would be amazing.


“But instead they’ll sit around and argue about issues that have little or no economic impact. They’ll talk about guns and transgender people playing sports. They’ll get sidetracked by abortion and vaccine mandates.


“Banning vaccine mandates is something I totally do not understand,” he said.


“Politicians talk endlessly about economic development,” he continued. “How does banning masks and vaccine mandates help the economy?


“How does it help the economy, if you don’t have a healthy work force; if every time you go out to dinner or to the hardware store, you have to worry about whether the guy next to you has a highly contagious disease?


“Instead of debating vaccines and transgender sports, they should be talking about real problems, like how are we going to clean up our water, or at least keep it from getting worse; how are we going to maintain and improve the productivity of our soil – not by repeatedly dumping nitrogen on it and letting it wash away to the Gulf of Mexico.


“We need to figure out how to prepare for the next derecho. That’s what they should be talking about.


“Cutting taxes isn’t going to solve anything. It will just create more problems,” K.C. said as he turned and walked west.

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