Febuary 16, 2001 Halifax Herald

Picking the pockets of the downtrodden

Income tax break for the better-off, and peanuts for the needy! The lowest income earners and the unemployable in particular must have welcomed the government's lack of compassion towards their plights with disbelief. The "break" they got is so minuscule that it doesn't even keep them abreast of the annual rate of inflation. The following is an example of the "help" provided.

Earning a gross annual income of $12,000, after deductions, the worker is left with a taxable income of approximately $4,000. Under the old rate of 17%, the income tax payable was $680. Under the new rate of 16%, with the rise in personal exemptions from $7,231 to $7,412 factored in, taxable income drops to $3,819. The tax payable is now $611, which equals a great saving of sixty nine bucks! To put the savings into perspective, it would buy 60 medium cups of Tim's coffee.

Such "generosity" belongs in the realm of Scrooge. I'll repeat a statement I've often made in my columns: Taxing such meager incomes is a national disgrace! One does not need to be a Harvard educated economist to figure out that $12,000 untaxed in this day and age is barely enough to permit a person to exist on the cutting edge of disaster. In fact, in the face of the ever-increasing cost of living, especially the cost of fuel, taxing such inadequate incomes displays almost a complete absence of human compassion. Poor people urgently need help to cope with dehumanizing poverty, not governments helping to pick their pockets clean.

Just how intolerable the situation of the poor has become is emphasised by the following: People with incomes in excess of $50,000 per annum, politicians included, are clamouring for more, claiming they can't cope. If these people can't live in comfort on such incomes, expecting the poor to live on what in comparison amounts to peanuts is indefensible. Give $50,000 annual incomes to those trying to survive on annual incomes of $20,000 or less, and I'm sure they'll kiss the boots of the provider.

Back to the so-called tax cut. In truth, when one reviews the entire picture, the cut is non-existent. The federal government created an illusion of turning deficits into surpluses by cutting back drastically its share of essential program costs. The shortfalls created were thus downloaded on the provinces, which are now downloading much of the added burden on municipalities. To cope, municipalities are increasing property taxes. By creating an illusion that it reduced taxes, the federal government has fashioned an image for itself of being fiscally responsible when, in fact, it has done nothing more than shuffle around taxing responsibilities and make other levels of government look bad. Illusion at its finest.

To bring a measure of sanity to the fiscal scene, we need an end to this kind of monkey business. Such taxing games must be replaced with a responsible universal approach to problem solving. Tax money being precious, there is a need to have the highest possible return. Continuing with the present practice of each level of government going its separate way will not solve anything - especially the problem of poverty.

In the case of poverty, with the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer, the need to cooperate is urgent. All major correctives, especially major minimum-wage increases, need immediate implementation. If the present course of benign neglect and taxing meagre incomes continues, it will eventually lead to a problem of crisis proportions. The slide is evident already. For example, the failure of government to assure that affordable housing is available is causing many of the poor, unable to pay unconscionable rents, to be driven out into the streets. Greed, fueled by a need to acquire more political power and assets, is the reason for this neglect.

Such greed rears its ugly head everywhere. It’s why the wealthy Nations of the world are not addressing the need to stabilize the cost of crude oil, which would stabilize the cost of products produced from it - i.e., heating oil. If the rich Nations were to guarantee oil-producing Nations a realistic return for their resources, $25 American per barrel for a fixed period of years, the problem would be solved. Although not an expert, I've concluded that the reason why they haven't taken such a step is that it would not be in the best financial interests of wealthy political contributors whose fortunes depend on speculating in oil futures. When it comes to making choices between vested interests and those of the middle class and the poor, the latter are out of luck. Sharing and compassion are becoming insignificant parts of the equation.

Modern-day greed: Multinationals mainly interested in improving the profit margin, governments mainly interested in retaining power, select individuals amassing and retaining more assets than they could expend in a thousand lifetimes and still yearning for more, and so on, are the driving forces behind today's economy. “More” is the password. The process seems akin to an owner of a hugh spring-fed, fresh-water lake in the middle of a desert hoping for rain, not because he/she needs more water or wants to share the precious asset with the thirsty, but just to have it! Such insatiable grabbers become blind to the misery around them. Taxing the poor is probably A-okay to them.

Daniel N. Paul


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