As we edge toward a new decade, something about the progressive RI Political Cooperative’s tax-the-rich plan is especially worrying:
They propose a state income tax hike for individuals making more than $467,700 a year. By their calculations, raising the top marginal tax rate from 5.99% to 10.99% on these top earners would “generate over $170 million″ in new revenue “to help meet Rhode Island’s critical needs in education, housing, health care, and clean energy.”
They also endorsed the $15-per-hour minimum wage proposed in recent years by left-leaning Democrats in the Rhode Island legislature and public employee unions. The proposal generated headlines and some support, but not enough to win General Assembly approval during the last session in the face of heated opposition from the state’s business lobby. A $15-an-hour wage equates to $31,200 a year.
Right away, progressive Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo balked at the idea of doubling the income tax rate to make the Ocean State a regional outlier again, which brings to mind my op-ed about how progressives who aren’t in direct control of government can just say anything to seem more pure, while those in office have responsibilities.
In this case, the progressives have to know that their policy has no chance, which makes the proposal a sort of childish, aspirational negotiating ploy — start high to increase leverage. In public policy, however, that means we can never have an honest discussion about what’s realistic and what the trade-offs are. The biggest trade-off is the principle of giving government the authority to decide how much money people should make.
This is well-trodden ground, however. What feels new and worrying is that education (particularly higher education) has increasingly become about training activists, rather than breeding thinkers. We might soon get to a place where a critical mass of our countrymen have forgotten not only about negotiation and rights, but also about reality. At that point, it doesn’t matter what the effects might be of taking a big chunk of money from those with the higher income, while also forcing them to pay employees above market rate. Even as the economy shrivels, no trade-offs will be acknowledged, because there will always be somebody to blame for inequity and government screws to tighten.