I-35W Bridge Fallout and a Taste of Crow

The National Transportation Safety Board issues a report that the I-35W bridge collapse was most likely caused by a design flaw, and — surprise surprise — there’s a flap over politics.

And one of our readers suggests a diet of crow to me and the people like me (dreaded liberals) who wondered if the bridge collapse was a symptom of politicians and the people who vote for them not being willing to pay taxes to support a state that works.

Here’s what a TSRC reader posted:

How do you guys like your crow prepared … medium, well done?

I’m talking about the post you will never write about Pawlenty & Molnau’s COMPLETE EXONERATION on the I-35 bridge collapse. The NTSB report concluded it was a DESIGN FLAW that happened long before Pawlenty took office, and not insufficient maintenance due to an “under resourced” MnDOT, as you clowns have asserted from the very moment the bridge collapsed.

You knee-jerk gas taxers look like big idiots.

You did then, and you most certainly do now.I’d invite you all and Nick Coleman out to a crow dinner if I could find a restaurant that welcomes whiney DFL hacks.

I love that someone is, number one, still reading this blog, and, number two, beating on us (me mostly) in a rowdy fashion.

Crow? Pass the hot sauce. I’ll eat some. I’ve eaten plenty in my time.

Let’s skip the political flap and stipulate, for argument’s sake, that the NTSB’s final findings also say the main problem was a design flaw. And let’s stipulate that the NTSB is correct.

Where does that leave us “knee-jerk gas taxers”?

A little chastened, me. I never said the bridge collapse was because of bad maintenance because of low taxes — I said the collapse could turn out to be a case of that, and if so we should learn from it. But I have a strong streak of “I’m so right” in me, and I could stand to curb that.

Overall, and this will come as no surprise to the reader whose post is above, I haven’t changed my view. As a society, we are not paying as we go — for nuclear power, for infrastructure maintenance, for the war in Iraq — because too many politicians know the simplistic “no new taxes” line will get the votes of too many citizens who are, understandably, tired of paying taxes and believe there is a free lunch out there somewhere.

My bigger point, and one that neither I nor most liberals make clearly enough, is that the tax burden is not fairly shouldered. It’s not about No New Taxes or Lower Taxes or Knee-Jerk Throw Money At The Problem Higher Taxes. It’s about fair taxes.

Those with a lot of resources pay a smaller percentage in taxes than those with fewer resources. And too many at the top pay almost nothing. And I just don’t believe that’s fair. If the very wealthy and the corporations who keep the tax-dodge lawyers busy were paying their share, I’d feel better about paying mine. And we’d have more money to maintain Minnesota and build a future for our kids.

The presidential election will tell us a lot about who’s selling what and who’s buying what. It’s easy to say the Democrats are for higher taxes and the Republicans are for lower taxes. But who’s going to make taxes fair, and then tell us straight when we have to pony up for something? That’s the person who deserves to be president.

The NTSB flap? It’s not surprising that some are saying the report is politically slanted. George Bush has put so many unqualified political hacks in government it’s reasonable to question this one. But the whole board concurred in the decision, so it is likely accurate. 

No matter what happened to the bridge over the Mississippi, the issue remains. We’re not being fair with taxes, and we’re not being honest about taxes and what we spend them on. We elect the people who tell us we can have something for nothing. It’s our own doing. If the bridge isn’t a symbol of fooling ourselves, then the debt we’re piling up on our children is, and the closed libraries and packed schoolrooms and metastasizing jails are.

Let’s be fair and honest about taxes. I’m naive enough to believe that someone can do that and be elected.  And if I’m wrong about that, send in the crows.

— Bruce Benidt small business bookkeeping kind

6 thoughts on “I-35W Bridge Fallout and a Taste of Crow

  1. Max says:

    Bruce,

    The sticky point is defining “fair.” What is fair depends on where you sit.

    Personally, I would give up every deduction I had if a flat tax were instated that gave EVERYONE the first $30K in income tax free. Then, tax every dollar over that amount at the same rate, whether it’s $1 or millions. That would mean no individual deductions for having more children you can’t afford. No deductions for putting money away for retirement. No deductions for investing in special funds or certain industries or overseas investments.

    And if $30K is too low, make it $40K. I care less what the bottom threshold is than that we tax everyone at the same rate when you get above it. If you make $50K and the first $30 is tax free, you only pay 17% or 20% or 25% on the $20K over the threshold. You can do that math on a postcard. This plan might even raise my overall tax burden, but I would feel better knowing that everyone was going through the same pain.

    This would apply to the people, NOT the businesses. (You would have to define income to include the perks of the executive comp packages to truly reflect the benefit they are getting from the job.) Business taxes impact the economy and that would take a much more carefully crafted plan.

    We need to start a fair tax plan some where and starting with the individuals might begin to get some balance in the debate. But no politician wants to define “fair” when it comes to taxes. And, when they do (Perot or Forbes) they get laughed at and ridiculed by the journalists, lobbyists and politicos.

  2. AvgJoe says:

    Simpler? Amen brother Max. Flatter? We won’t convince each other on that. Everyone has their own sense of fairness, but to me it’s fair to require people who earn more to pay proportionately more.

  3. It might be enough to truly tax and collect a flat tax from everyone — regardless of whether it’s flat or graduated. I just wanna make sure some of those folks with lotsa bucks and lotsa lawyers and tax shelters are chipping in. Let’s get a tax code that puts not the IRS out of business, but the tax shelter folks out of business. Let’s all pay — ain’t that fair?

  4. Matthew says:

    From the perspective of a twenty something who will undoubtedly be shouldering the primary burden of our current fiscal policy, I find some of the concepts presented irresponsible at best.

    After all a “flat tax” – even when it includes a bottom threshold – impacts the middle class the greatest and continues to let the people who CAN afford to pay – off the hook.

    Here’s the deal, I think we all agree that the working poor in this country should be given a reprieve when it comes to taxes. One of the reasons why a flat tax and even our current tax law is antiquated and won’t work is because taxes do not take into account geography.

    For a person living in San Francisco, CA $50k/year is hardly enough to support yourself (and many people live on much less). However that same $50k/year in Omaha, NE would likely get you pretty far.

    So we have a disagreement about the bottom threshold already. You cannot create a flat nationwide bottom threshold without alienating significant parts of the country. We’re already in this situation; a person living in San Francisco pays the same amount as someone living in Omaha – not fair.

    Now let’s talk about why I believe the middle class shoulders the burden if we establish a nationwide flat tax with a bottom threshold. Presume the bottom threshold is $40k and the flat tax rate thereafter is 20%. Additionally both people live in the suburbs outside Denver, Colorado where real estate prices are not outrageous, and likely comparable to the national average.

    Sam has done well for himself over the years. He’s worked his way up the corporate ladder and at the age of 38 is currently a Vice President of Marketing for a fairly large national corporation. He has a wife and two junior high school age children at home, and brings home $100k annually. He owns a house that has a monthly payment including taxes and insurance of $3,200.00 and the household monthly bills after that usually total around $1200.00.

    This leaves Sam with an annual taxable income of $60k. Cest la vie to the $12k that he pays in taxes every year and Sam has a net income of just under $90k or $88k to be specific. Subtract out his annual mortgage commitment ($38,400) and the monthly bill commitment ($14,400) and Sam is left with $35,200 in disposable income or roughly $3k per month. – Not half bad. Sam just paid his fair share, and continues to do rather well for himself.

    Chuck however is in a different situation. As a 38 year old hedge fund manager he makes $1.2 million annually or 12x what Sam makes (certainly not ultra rich, but definitely wealthy). He too has a wife and two children at home. He owns a house that has a monthly payment including taxes and insurance of $10k and household monthly bills after that total roughly $15k.

    Chuck also gets to take $40k off his taxable income, leaving him with $1,160,000. He pays the 20% tax rate or $232k leaving him with $928k. Subtract out his annual housing and bill commitment ($300,000) and Chuck is left with a disposable income of $628k.

    $628k vs. $36k in disposable income – that’s over 17x more! You tell me which family’s kids are going to Yale and which family is taking the vacation to Davos, Switzerland this year.

    In addition, do you really think that for making as much money as Chuck did, that he cannot afford to pay, 40% or $464k? Don’t you think that Chuck should pay more? I certainly do – BECAUSE HE CAN!

    We’ve got to get rid of a system that allows the wealthy in this country to pay for tax sheltering. It is appalling to me that the mindset has become, “I’ll pay $50k to my tax guy to avoid having to pay $100k in taxes to the government.” – Blah! That concept makes me want to hurl every single time I think about it.

    Pay the damn taxes you filthy bastards. You’re no better than the rest of us!

    In my opinion an even more fair tax would be based on percentage income over the national average. If you make 10x the salary of the average American household, you ought to pay 10x more taxes – an incremental tax slide – but that’s a topic for a different session.

    -That’s my two cents!

    Matthew

  5. Max says:

    Matthew,

    In your example, do you really think Chuck is paying as much as 20% for federal taxes now? With the ability to shelter income, the answer is no. If you take away all tax shelters and deductions, he would end up paying more than he is now.

    It would be a start.

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