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Thursday, May 19, 2011 02:13 am

Helping the neediest among us

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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. What needy constituency would you try to spare from the budget ax: schoolkids, 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 quarter-million-dollar-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 that 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 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. To download “The Artful Dodgers” report, go to publicampaign.org.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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