Monday, February 8 , 2016, 1:42 pm | Fair 80º

Jim Hightower: Helping the Neediest Among Us?

Texas lawmakers give yacht buyers a break at the expense of education and health care

By Jim Hightower |

To be fair to lawmakers, it’s not easy making the tough spending choices in these dire times of rising public need and inadequate tax revenues. Legislators in my state of Texas, for example, are trying to make $27 billion in cuts to balance an already miserly budget.

So, assume you’re a member of the Texas House of Representatives. What needy constituency would you try to spare from the budget ax: school kids, poor people, old folks in nursing homes — or yacht buyers?

Yes, yachts. Not your run-of-the-mill yachts, but big ones — those costing more than $250,000. You might not be surprised to learn that the Republicans, who have a supermajority in the House, went with yacht buyers.

Some days when you read the news, you don’t know whether to go crazy, go bowling or go very deep into the woods and weep — and this was one of those days.

Rep. John Davis, a Houston Republican, passed his bill in committee to give a sales tax break to the purchasers of $250,000-and-up yachts. I should note that this tax break is available to anyone, whether rich or poor, so in that sense it’s fair. But is it really necessary?

Using both of his brain cells at once, Davis explains that it is. You see, he says Florida already provides such a tax giveaway to the yachting crowd, so our state must match it, lest Texans go there to make their boat purchases.

Excuse me, but if you’ve got a few million bucks to splurge on a yacht, chances are you’re not flying to Florida and hauling back just to avoid a sales tax. Still, Davis proudly says that he sees his bill as an “economic development” measure for our people. Imagine their gratitude.

OK, he’s a goofball, but were there no adults in the room? Uh-uh. The committee chairman just shrugged his sorry shoulders and said the yacht break is “one of those things you have to do.” Sheesh — 100,000 sperm, and he was the fastest?

The house budget will take away college aid for 60,000 students, eliminate nearly 100,000 teachers and other school employees, and shortchange health care for poor people by billions of dollars — but we’ve got your yacht covered! You see, it’s simply a matter of getting your priorities straight.

For instruction in this political exercise, look to Washington, where the new priority is “shared sacrifice.” Sounds nice. But it’s really just code for gouging the middle class and the poor. Again.

Republican budget-whackers use the shared sacrifice phrase like a war cry as they slash Medicare, education, job training and every other public program they hate.

President Barack Obama, too, has taken to uttering the phrase as he surrenders to the contrived wisdom in Washington that every American must give up even essential government benefits in order to balance the budget.

But guess who’s not sharing? The corporate powers, which use their lobbyists, lawyers, campaign cash, tax havens and other tools to avoid giving up anything in the call for national sacrifice. And now, they can buy a tax-free yacht in Texas — no sacrifice needed there.

Hundreds of thousands of schoolteachers are being dumped and our schoolchildren stiffed in sacrifice to the Deficit Gods. But look — General Electric is a sacrifice-free corporation. With almost 1,000 tax lawyers and other specialists in its tax department, this infamous polluter and job-cutter has paid exactly zero in federal income taxes since 2006, despite raking in $26 billion in profits. Indeed, its army of sacrifice-avoiders produced a $4 billion tax refund for GE in those five years. Yes, we paid it to not pay taxes. Meanwhile, GE continues to be rewarded with billions of dollars a year in government contracts.

In a concise report titled “The Artful Dodgers,” a watchdog group named Public Campaign uncovers the flagrant tax avoidance scams of a dozen hugely profitable corporations, including oil giants and bailed-out banks, as well as such outfits as FedEx and Carnival Cruise Lines.

When your local, state and national politicos mouth platitudes about sacrificing for the national good, tell ‘em to start at the top, then get back to you. Click here to download “The Artful Dodgers” report.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.

» on 05.12.11 @ 03:13 PM

Once again we see the flagrant manipulation of a story to sell an idea that’s, well, nuts.  Let’s use a little common sense here, shall we?  What Jim doesn’t tell you are all the little details. 

For instance, how many yachts are actually purchased in Texas?  What is the estimated revenues from those sales?  How much of a break is being given?  What is the revenue loss from businesses in Texas that make yachts and the materials they buy to build them and the people they hire to make them, etc etc.

My point is that by excluding all of that important information, it’s easy to paint a picture of “those abusive lawmakers” supporting those “gosh darn rich people,” and giving them breaks they don’t deserve.  Whereas union-backed school teachers are being let go and we just can’t stand for that, now can we? 

It’s altogether possible that after a cost-benefit analysis it was determined that it was better to keep business in Texas than allowing it to go to other states.  And yes Jim, people with money DO shop around for the best deal.  That’s normally how they make the money in the first place.  Duh.

I wonder how much money Jim makes and where he spends his money?  Does he get the big tax breaks like our president so that he doesn’t pay what the rest of us pay?  I’m sure he has a lawyer on retainer and an accountant to ensure he doesn’t pay a penny more than he has to.  I’m mean, that’s what our multi-millionaire president did, isn’t it?  Things are never what they seem, especially when protrayed by a far-left progressive activist like Jim.

» on 05.12.11 @ 05:39 PM

C’mon, socaljay. First you guys tell us that the top 1% income bracket pays, what? 47% of the taxes, then you tell us that if we took the entire Walton Family fortune it wouldn’t pay down the national debt. Or, taxed yachts in Texas, I guess.

Kind of weird arguments. We’re not talking about stripping anybody of their fortune. According to the 47% argument, if you raise the taxes on the top 1%, by say 6%, that should increase federal revs by about 3%.

» on 05.13.11 @ 05:37 PM

No, friends. Jim has it pretty straight.

The good news is that the Texas legislature meets only sporadically - which limits the damage they can do in any given calendar year.

The bad news is that you cannot imagine a less competent, ethical crew of special interest elected droids short of using mind-enhancing drugs.

The Texas legislature is so lame and so corrupt that it makes our own pathetic
Sacramento crew seem like Founding Fathers by comparison.

Native Californians can’t possibly fathom what you deal with if you live in, or do
business in, Texas.

Like when their Supreme Court chief justice was indicted for insurance fraud for
torching his own house (that was about to default), but beat the rap because of
the AG’s quashing the grand jury recommendation.

Or like when Governor Rick Perry fibs about every third thing out of his mouth,
but no one picks up on it because his legislature is either asleep or in recess.

Did you know that for all their crowing about the wealth their free market
business environment produces, Texas’ budget deficit, on a per capita basis,
was even larger than California’s?

Or that the Legislature’s way to balance their budget was to slash services for
those most in needs, and for public education (which is even worse than ours)
to protect tax “incentives” for corporations and the state’s richest residents?

All of this is true. Embarrassing. But true.

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