How a Bank Robber is Right on Taxes

It's been nearly eight years since the 2008 global recession devastated the budgets of state and local governments across the country - and our lawmakers have explored every possible way to raise money except for raising taxes on corporations and our richest citizens.

One way that states have raised revenue without raising taxes on the rich is to have police write enough citations and tickets to make up for budget shortfalls.

In Ferguson Missouri for instance, where Mike Brown was shot to death in the middle of the road two years ago, the Ferguson Police Department's "target" revenue accounted for 20% of the city's operating budget.

That's one out of every five dollars that's the city wants to come from tickets for misdemeanors like jaywalking, speeding, or simply being parked on the wrong block at the wrong time of day.

The Justice Department also highlighted the inherent racism in this system, because 85% of the people stopped for traffic stops in Ferguson between 2013 and 2015 were African-Americans, even though only 67% of the residents are black.

Even if we try to set aside race talking about the nationwide problem of "taxation by citation", there's no doubt that these fines disproportionately fall on the poorest Americans, and when those poor Americans are unable to pay because they simply don't have the money, the fines often double, and when they still can't pay, taxpayers end up footing the bill to put the person in jail.

And after all, the privilege of challenging a ticket in court only goes to people with enough money in the bank that they can afford to take time off of work to spend a day in court.

When the Justice Department investigated the Ferguson Missouri Police Department, they found that the need to ticket people to raise money for the city budget "compromised the institutional character of Ferguson's police department, contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing.".

In other words, using "taxation by citation" to fill in budget gaps creates a perverse incentive for police officers to spend more of their time unconstitutionally harassing citizens to raise revenue than they do actually keeping the public safe.

But it's not just policing, even the way we pay for our schools is set up to disproportionately hurt America's poorest families.

According to a report called "The Property Tax-School Funding Dilemma" by the Lincoln Institute, nearly half of all property taxes are used for public elementary and secondary schools.

The fact that we fund our schools using property taxes means that we create a clear difference between the public educations afforded to the nation's wealthiest kids in Loudoun County Virginia, where the median household income is $118,000, and the public educations afforded to our nation's poorest kids in Wheeler County Georgia where the median household income is only $16,000.

It creates an unavoidable and untenable situation where inequality leads to more inequality and then compounds over generations, even within a single city like Chicago.

NPR recently reported that the Chicago Ridge School District in Illinois spent just under $10,000 per child, as opposed to the Rondout District 72 in Chicago's wealthy suburbs where the school can spend nearly $30,000 per child, nearly 3 times more!

Property taxes don't just lead to unequal outcomes for America's children though, they also reinforce the vicious cycle of inequality in our communities, especially in cities like right here in the nation's capital, where neighborhoods are rapidly gentrifying, property taxes are rapidly increasing, and the poorest members of the community are the first to be forced out of their homes and into neighboring Maryland.

If we want to fix the budget deficits in our state and local governments without creating more inequality, and if we want to guarantee that we can provide and expand social security and Medicare for future generations, there's a simple solution.

It's time to actually tax the super-rich in this country with a wealth tax that would apply to the multimillionaires among us.

If we simply applied a 1% tax per year on Americans who have, say, over $15 million in net assets , we wouldn't have to rely on unconstitutional policing to fill in local budget shortfalls, and we could lower or do away with property taxes and actually let people own their homes.

The apocryphal story is that notorious bank robber Willie Sutton once told a reporter that he robbed banks "because that's where the money is!"

Sutton may never have actually said those words, but its good advice for policy makers who are trying to figure out how to make-up a budget shortfall.

If policymakers need to raise revenues, they should go to where the money is: Tax the multi-millionaires and billionaires on their net assets, end our insane system of corporate subsidies that funnel wealth from the middle class to the top 1%, and close the tax loopholes that let the top 1% hide their fortunes overseas in places like Panama and Switzerland.

America should stop saddling our poor with our state and local budget shortfalls, and start requiring the super-rich to pay their fair share.


geo.mccalip's picture
geo.mccalip 6 years 45 weeks ago

It is morally indefensible for a government to have to make criminals of its citizens just to have enough money to survive.

c-gull's picture
c-gull 6 years 45 weeks ago

Morality in the U.S. went down with the Mayflower but it brings up a good point. If the opposite of morality is sin and sin is defined as hypocrisy then why the tolerance and spread of so much hyprocrisy?

It was taught in the Pelagian school of Christanity that "if there was no rich class, then there would be no poor class".

The United States now has a level of economic hypocrisy that would make Adolph Eichman shudder. Hypocrisy develops in hierarchical bureaucratic institutions-any hierarchical bureaucratic institution not just governmental.

I would like to see Thom do a weeks worth of his "Big Picture" just on the sociopathology of hyprocrisy in the U.S. ; because if we cannot successfully fix the problem of hypocrisy in our social systems the suffering will continue. Let's get to the root cause.

douglas m 6 years 45 weeks ago

They eventually will not have a choice. You can't take Blood from a turnip. Society is ripping itself apart now. On the edge of complete cayous everyone will lose. Is humanity smart enough to stop it before it happens. Because you probably will not get it stopped after it starts. The price will be too high. Everyone's loses then.

ckrob's picture
ckrob 6 years 45 weeks ago

Listening to the RNC leads me to wonder was there ever a George W. Bush and his economic crash that we have been steadily crawling out of for the last eight years? Guess I'll have to get back on my meds. Or maybe an antipsychotic in the Cleveland water supply would help us all.

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 6 years 45 weeks ago

A $300 speeding ticket is actual punishment for a working class person. That same $300 speeding ticket for a one percenter is just the low cost of having fun speeding!

Citations and property tax should both be based on income, although property tax actually needs to be abolished and revenue raised entirely by progressive income tax, or in other words, the ability to pay. Extremely regressive property tax exists because funding local schools and government with a progressive income tax would force guys like Trump to pay their fair share, and until we have government by and for the people, it ain't going to happen.

Uncle Ralph's picture
Uncle Ralph 6 years 44 weeks ago

I am the beneficiary of property tax funded schools. Through junior high I lived in the school district in Salt Lake City that encompassed the massive Kennecott Copper mine and associated Magna smelter operation. We wanted for nothing. Our school district could barely figure out how to spend all the money they had. We got a first class education, probably as good or better than you get at a private school nowadays. At the same time, in neighboring school districts, they were resorting to double sessions with the high-schoolers going to school at five in the morning so that they could have after-school jobs and the junior high kids in school till after dark in the winter time because they couldn't afford separate schools for junior high and high school.

We then moved to Denver where our neighborhood wasn't rich but it was in the same school district as some of the richest neighborhoods in town. Same deal: we had the best facilities money could buy and were being taught college-level courses by moonlighting professors from the local universities, while the kids going to the inner-city schools in the same city were having to share books.

This is immoral. I personally benefited from it, but it is immoral. Watch the section of Michael Moore's "Where To Invade Next" on the schools in Finland. All of the schools are funded equally and at a high level. No school is any different than any other and they are all good.

We need to demand that our schools are uniform and uniformly good. Affirmative action and all that other stuff wouldn't even be necessary if everyone really got the same opportunity from the git-go.

golden's picture
golden 6 years 44 weeks ago

(1) The Donald's first deal: Deal between Donald and the GOP: Mike Pence can be Dick Cheney on steriods, if the GOP establishment unites with the Tea Party behind Trump as a figurehead/spokesperson/maste of cerimonies.

(2) Rodger Ailes will soon transition to "chief-of-staff" for Campaign Donald. He'll expect to be high up in the White House propoganda arm, on stage or behind the scenes, e.g., Press Secretary? Trump's Carl Rove?

(3) Of course, Donald, if elected, can renig on either or both of these deals at anytime.

Craig Bush's picture
Craig Bush 6 years 44 weeks ago

In Santa Cruz, CA they recently hired a new parks and rec adm. with a $200,000 salary and million dollar pension. They designed colored dots on the downtown streets. If your found on the wrong colored dot either standing or playing music or dancing your ticketed. People are ticketed for smoking in the wrong places. Homeless are dying in the streets from hypothermia. We have they highest mortality rate while incarcarated in the state. Two young people have been executed by taizer while incarcarated. A 78 yr old senior was jailed for smoking pot during halloween downtown. He was denied his meds and later died. If your jailed and denied medical care it is the same as an execution. If you receive too many tickets here you are imprisoed or put on a work detail. This forced labor is replacing union city labor. I witnessed a young man given a $1000 fine for putting his beverage can down on the rocks near the coast to save a puppy that had got stuck hanging over the rocks. A senior was taized in the back walking his small dog with his leash off in the park and later fined. They put up cameras to rake in tickets and have been found to shave the time on the light changes illegally to make more money. This is central coast living in CA.

We need a tax on net worth. The first $10 million exempt. The rest on a progressive scale. Those that denounced citizenship should not be allowed back in or do business in our society for all goods and services. Give them a special exit tax on net worth.

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