In April 9 IssueBy John Thompson, Columnist
I've been asked, and I'm guessing a few may have wondered why I never write a column about local issues. This has always been a personal policy. I was never asked not too here or at the previous paper.
My thinking is that since I have to report on the news, and cover local events continuously, I do not feel comfortable also editorializing on local happenings.
I'm going to make an exception this week.
We like to think we live in a Democracy. Our particular style of democracy is of course a representative republic, where we do not vote directly on issues, but hire, by voting, representatives to vote in our proxy. We do this with the understanding that they will vote the will of the people, and in the people's interests.
If you stop and think, you also know that a business is not a democracy. It is a dictatorship by design. And that is not meant derogatorily. It's what we have accepted as the proper blueprint of how business is done. After mass industrialization there have been many attempts by labor to have some say in the business in which they sell themselves, with unions being the most successful attempt. But union influence is waning and has been for decades. The really sad part is labor's seeming inability to even want for their own situational betterment.
I was talking to an old friend, must have been a year ago or more, and questioned whether he believed it was "fair" the split with what the low paid workers where he worked and the massive profits taken in by the company. He, like many now, not only did not have a desire to see a better profit from the fruits of his labor, he was offended at the notion. His thinking was that the business belonged to the businessman and that as such should profit as much as he could (and I don't disagree, to a point) and that he was "free" to move on to another job if he wanted to. But if all labor thinks like this, what a sad shape they are in. As the famous American author of "The Jungle" and social activist Upton Sinclair once noted a hundred years ago, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it."
Part of it is the fear of appearing to stoke "class warfare;" a charge that's often put at the feet of the government. Multi-billionaire Warren Buffett understands this fight when he said in 2006, "There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."
What is happening now in Russell County is what is happening in the country. Rules and regulations, the laws we live under, have increasingly favored the accumulation of vast wealth by the few, while the middle class is being systematically wiped out, and the ability for the working poor to profit from the fruits of their own labor has been decreasing for decades.
In this microcosm of Russell County, we are at a crossroads that also faces the country. And some are speaking out.
Yet as a concerned citizen stood to demand a modicum of fairness at the Fiscal Court meeting which enacted the tax with a cap, she was ridiculed with phrases like "you must be a liberal" or even that those who display an Obama bumper sticker on their car have a mentality that the government owes them a living.
These, these are the phrases of class warfare.
You have sat in your homes, as I have, and griped and moaned about the situation nationally; but what could we do? It's an entire nationwide problem. How can we effect change? Well, here's your chance; not only your chance, but your responsibility.
It's quite the catchy phrase to say that if you don't vote, you do not have the right to complain. I'm here to tell you, if you do not speak your mind, then you do not have the right to complain as every social safety net, your community's infrastructure and services crumble around you.
I had a conversation with the author of the Commonwealth Journal piece days before they ran a story outlining our deficit problem. Back when they enacted a 1 percent tax on wages and business profits Somerset was a poor community itself, as most of us remember. He is convinced that the tax is in large part what turned Pulaski County from being poor and underdeveloped into the prosperous county it is today. The government was able to put the money to work for the county.
The evidence might seem anecdotal. One could argue that the tax is not what caused the community's prosperity. Well here's a little more evidence:
I compile the information every month on unemployment statistics for Russell County; in doing so I compare the rates to the state's and all of the U.S. As I was doing this month I noticed that Magoffin County had the highest unemployment rate of 21.0 percent. I know that month after month, almost all of last year they had the highest unemployment rate in Kentucky. I was interested to see how they worked their occupational tax, and do you know what I found? Whereas the vast majority of townships taxes both, Magoffin County only tax wages.
And in fact, some townships that do not have a cap do not start the tax until wages over $25,000, or others where business profits exceed $37,500. The opposite of what we are doing.
If you go to the website for Kentucky Occupational License Association at kyola.org, you will see a link to the Kentucky communities imposing an occupational tax for 2011. What you will note is that by far the majority do, in fact, tax both personal incomes as well as business profit, and they do not include a cap on that tax! Why haven't they relocated here with our very low taxes if this is the only motivator? I'll tell you later.
The average (median) income in Russell County is $22,000. Can you tell me that a family of four, making $20,000 a year can better afford to pay their 1 percent, or $200 in a year than the $2,000 someone who makes $200,000 would pay, or the $20,000 a year that someone who may make $2,000,000 (two million) can pay? Every dime someone who makes $20,000 a year must be guarded jealously, as it takes all their money just to survive.
We have heard the statement that if you increase the tax, new business will not locate here. But we also forget that new business will not locate somewhere that does not have proper infrastructure, good schools, libraries and other amenities that will attract good workers with good habits and intelligence. No, we seem so often to think that if we just make it hardscrabble enough, pay the least wages and tax the least then we will attract more. But what are we attracting them to? Not a community.
Which brings me back to an earlier point; we like to think we live in a democracy. But if a person, or persons, or a business or two can absolutely dictate the direction a town will take, then you do not live in a democracy, you are living by the dictates of a few.
From most I've spoken to, they seem to say the same thing; and that is, nobody likes to pay taxes… and they're not excited about paying 1 percent instead of the .25 percent as it was, but they say they're willing to pay it, because they understand the community needs it. But they are outraged at the unfair application of this law. And outraged they should be. And outraged you should be.
Most of the magistrates came into that fiscal court meeting with the idea they would pass the tax without a cap. They did not tell me this. You just have to watch the video that was taped. It seems clear they would do this.
As the meeting progressed, and it became clear this was going to be the vote that was made, more pressure was brought to bear by one businessman and one of his employees (who took every opportunity to assure us he was not looking out for the interest of his boss). Finally, with the threats that jobs would be lost and litigation would be sure to follow, the magistrates caved, except for one.
But don't pat him on the back, his motivation was different. He wanted no tax. Irresponsible governing that would have the state take over the county; impose the tax plus maybe some more, and with a nice little hefty fee for their services.
Interestingly, two of the most conservative members of the court, and there are three with a more of the Tea Party mentality, two showed, in my opinion, that while the theme might be 'looking out for the little guy,' you see that the first reaction is a fealty to wealth and power. This phenomenon I think you will also see being played out across the country. While saying something is being done for the little guy, actions continuously pushes the rules, the laws and regulations that will benefit the most wealthy and the most powerful.
You better get your head on straight people. Wealth and power have been scripting this narrative. They frame the arguments in ways that benefit them, while telling you that exclusively government is the enemy. The government is SUPPOSED to be a tool of the people to insure such things as domestic tranquility. Wealth and power looks after itself; why don't you?
Yes, you better wake up all right. The problem is now, and the problem is at your doorstep. Your actions are imperative. You must show up at all coming fiscal court meetings. You must. You must make your voices heard. You must. You must start demanding not only accountability from government, but also fairness in treatment.