AUBURN — Happy tax day.
You might be surprised, but for many business owners, paying our taxes gives us a sense of satisfaction. Having taxes to pay means our company has been profitable.
We’ve tried it both ways. And when we’re profitable and pay our taxes, we’re also able to pay our people more, invest in our business and support our communities. And that’s certainly not guaranteed in a tough economy.
For community-based businesses like mine, paying taxes brings the satisfaction of knowing that we’re paying our fair share to support our neighbors, our friends, our customers and our country.
As the ongoing debate in Congress over the Buffett Rule has made clear, however, not everyone is currently paying their way.
At this point, you’ve most likely heard Warren Buffett’s impassioned argument that our nation shouldn’t allow a tax code so flawed that a billionaire like Buffett pays taxes at a lower rate than his secretary.
Under the Buffett Rule, now making its way through the House and Senate, Americans who earn $1 million per year would be subject to a 30 percent tax rate.
Many millionaires derive their wealth from investment income, which typically is taxed at 15 percent. That tax rate is lower than what most of the rest of us, who work for a living, pay.
More than anything else, the Buffett Rule is a guiding principle. It holds that the very wealthiest Americans should pay taxes at a rate at least equivalent to the rate paid by middle-income workers.
Basic tax fairness isn’t a new idea. President Reagan made the exact same argument back in 1985, in the first year of his second term:
“We’re going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that allow some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share,” said Reagan. Such tax loopholes, he added, “sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary — and that’s crazy.”
In the years since this plea for basic equality, things have gotten much worse. The richest individuals and corporations in the country have increased their wealth, far outpacing the earnings of the middle class.
With their increased share of the wealth came increased influence in Washington, and bill after bill introduced tax cuts for those who don’t need them and new loopholes to allow the wealthy to avoid paying even their smaller share of their tax responsibilities.
At the same time as — and in large part because of — this rise in wealth and influence, the Republican Party has veered sharply to the right, so much so that it has abandoned tax fairness and health care access policies that it once championed.
We know what a successful economy looks like. It is an economy that works for all of us — or, to use the current vernacular, it is an economy that works for the 99 percent as opposed to just the 1 percent. It is an economy where every American has a good job, can educate their kids, support their family and retire with security. We will either provide our children a world-class education, build a clean infrastructure and protect our clean air and water, or we will all fail.
It won’t be easy to rebuild the shattered middle class and expand opportunity for those who aspire to join it. Those same interests who have bent the system to suit their own agenda want to keep it twisted out of shape.
Most CEOs of corporations that are “too big to fail,” Wall Street speculators who undercut our economy and almost all the lobbyists in Congress who do their dirty work are all standing against the Buffett Rule and the idea that everyone should pay their fair share.
It will be difficult, but this week, Congress should pass the Buffett Rule. They should do it in honor of all the ordinary people who work and pay their taxes and are proud of their contributions to their communities.
Jim Wellehan is CEO of Lamey-Wellehan shoe stores and a member of the Maine Small Business Council.
– Special to the Press Herald