Monday, May 23, 2005


They Call Them "Fees" Because "Revenue Enhancement" Was Already Taken

It's fun watching Minnesota's Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty -- also known as David Strom's cabana boy -- put himself through all sorts of contortions on the tax issue. See, when he was running the Minnesota Legislature, Pawlenty rammed through a bunch of tax breaks that, just like Bush's tax cuts on the Federal level, were of the most benefit to the very rich. He later got himself elected Governor on a no-tax-and-no-gambling platform, and worked to cut the taxes for the very rich even more. Well, you can see what this all meant. Even with huge cutbacks in everything from the Minnesota state university system to road work to public libraries, the drop in revenue has been so huge that the state is swimming in red ink even as the service cutbacks have trashed our once-envied quality of life. Now, Pawlenty has been backed up against a wall. The Democrats in the state legislature, who he thought he had whipped, have now come roaring back, emboldened by their big gains last November. A number of Pawlenty's biggest conservative Republican allies lost their seats to Democrats, a fact which has also enabled the moderate Republicans (aka those who don't want the state to become South Dakota or Mississippi) in the legislature to unite more frequently with the Democrats to try to save their fair state from falling into a Grover Norquist dream-vision of third-world poverty for the masses and unimaginable tax-free wealth for the fortunate few at the top. The most recent effort of the Democrats and the GOP mods is a bill that would undo some of Pawlenty's giveaways over the years to Minnesota's richest citizens -- 44,000 people out of a population of over six million. At the same time, Pawlenty's owners, such as the aforementioned David Strom over at the Minnesota (Rich) Taxpayers' League, are constantly reminding him that he works for them and not us. (Need I say that they are strongly against undoing the tax breaks for Minnesota's richest .8%?) So what does Pawlenty do? First of all, Mr. Anti-Gambling is trying to muscle in on the Native-American casino action by setting up a state casino in the Twin Cities. He figured that a) it's an easy way to increase the state's revenues, and b) his base hates Indians anyway and especially hates the idea of their hard-earned betting money going to people who aren't white. But he's running into surprisingly stiff opposition, much of it from the members of his own party who took his initial anti-gambling pledge seriously. Second of all, he's stolen a page from Ronald "Revenue Enhancement" Reagan and gone fee-crazy. Scads of activities that used to be free for the general public now have fees attached. These act as extremely regressive taxes, since the people who pay most of the fees are those who have the least money to start with. A $50 fee is nothing to someone like PowerLine conservablogger, .8 percent club member, and Faegre & Benson lawyer John "Hindrocket" Hinderaker. But they're sizable chunks of change to the rest of us. Pawlenty's been able to get away with the fee scam for a while now. But in his call for a new 75-cent-per-pack "fee" on cigarettes -- which would thrown on top of the taxes that already exist for cigarettes -- he just overplayed his hand. It's now clear to everyone that "fees" are taxes that hurt the little people. And even David Strom, who would rather see Minnesota turn into a northern version of Mississippi rather than undo any of the recent tax cuts, is not shying away from pointing out that these fees are most certainly taxes. Suddenly, Pawlenty's looking very vulnerable. And if the Democrats can find a strong candidate, 2006 should be the year that Pawlenty and Strom are toppled.

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