Not for the first time, Fred Thomas is about to make my head explode.
In a YPR interview with Chuck Johnson yesterday, Thomas* suggested that in order to wind up the current legislative session, he (and his caucus, one presumes) need to strike a deal with Governor Steve Bullock. The way it’s supposed to work, the Republicans will throw their support behind an infrastructure bonding bill - which Bullock really wants - if the Governor will back a bunch of selective tax cuts – which the Republicans really want. Of course it’s not just Republican legislators who like these tax cuts. The beneficiaries – international corporations who shield their Montana profits from taxation, high income venture capitalists, telecommunications companies, high rollers who promise to build data centers, companies that are required (oh, the outrage of it!) to install pollution control equipment – also think they are pretty peachy.
What I don’t get is how Thomas can keep a straight face when he proposes a deal like this and then claim, in the same breath, to be fiscally responsible. What we’re gonna do, apparently, is swallow hard and borrow a bunch of money, and then take a big bite out of the future revenue stream we need to pay the money back! How does that compute? And if we are going to be building infrastructure with the money we borrow, why in God’s green earth shouldn’t all these folks agitating for tax breaks help pay for it?
Thomas, bred-in-the-bone supply-sider that he is, will no doubt tell you that these tax cuts will more than pay for themselves! That's because if we offer a tidy "incentive" to these footloose outfits, they swear they'll come to Montana. And if we don't, they’ll go somewhere else. The way Thomas puts it, we need to make Montana “competitive” so they’ll set up shop here. And we know that because they tell us so, over and over again.
When, if ever, will we learn that these guys dangle the same bag of gold in front of the noses of every state legislature in the country? When, if ever, will we learn than when the race to the bottom is finished, we’ll end up with a tax system with more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese, and nothing to show for it?
When, if ever, will we learn that if these guys do end up in Montana, they’ll be demanding not just infrastructure, but police and fire protection and an educated work force and freedom from environmental regulation and subsidized air fares and even more tax cuts?
When, if ever, will we realize that we are dealing with people that are telling us, in so many words, that they are willing to do business in Montana only if they don’t have to pay the same taxes the rest of us poor schmucks do?
When, if ever, will we realize that good tax policy means defending the interests of all the people and businesses that are already here and committed to Montana, who get up every day, send their kids to school, go to work and pay their taxes without complaint and without looking for a handout?
* For those of you not familiar with Treasure State politics, Thomas is the Republican majority leader in the Montana Senate.