Congress passed an enormous tax cut package this week and President Trump will sign it into law today. The GOP has been taking a victory lap over the last few days to celebrate their first real legislative victory of this administration. Their major talking point is that the “average” American will get to keep more of their hard-earned dollars. It’s a great narrative. What the GOP doesn’t like to talk about so much is that “average” Americans are only getting a small percentage of the benefits of this tax cut. The Iowa Fiscal Partnership put out a report that shows that in Iowa the top 1% of households will get 25% of the tax benefits of the bill, while the bottom two-thirds of Iowans will get only 17% of the benefit. It is also important to note that over the course of the bill, “average” tax payers will see their taxes increase, while the wealthy will continue to see their taxes cut.
So, people are getting tax cuts, but more importantly big businesses are getting a GIGANTIC PERMANENT tax cut. The tax rate for most corporations drops from 35% to 21%. Already there are corporations giving bonuses to their employees in celebration of the tax cut. It’s almost as though it has all been choreographed as part of the GOP narrative.
As I understand it, the theory is that the massive amounts of money that these companies will now get from the tax break help to make them more competitive. They can use these newly found resources to upgrade facilities, improve salaries for their employees, spend more on research and development, and become more competitive in the business environment. In short, the benefits will “trickle down” to those of us who aren’t in the top 1%. It’s a pretty good narrative that is easy to sell. Businesses and corporations will be more successful if they have more resources to work with.
But here’s where I struggle. The end result of these tax cuts is that we will explode our debt by $1.5 trillion. That means that there is $1.5 trillion less for roads, schools, hospitals, support for scientific research, and public services of all kinds. As a teacher, I struggle to understand why it is assumed that businesses and corporations will automatically flourish with more resources, while public schools are told that we have to “tighten our belts.” It’s hypocrisy isn’t it? If it is true that big businesses and corporations are going to be more successful by having more money will lead to better outcomes, why in the world wouldn’t that be true in the world of education?
In my home state of Iowa, schools are preparing to receive no increase in state funding for the next school year, even as the cost of everything from busing to textbooks to insurance and much more continues to rise considerably. Iowa schools are seeing increasing class sizes, teacher shortages, and schools looking at reduced programming in the face of little or no increase to state school funding. Can you imagine a GOP legislator telling the leaders of large corporations that it might be time to “tighten their belts” in order to see more successful outcomes? It makes you wonder what the difference is between schools and businesses and corporations when it comes to how they are viewed by GOP legislators. Could it be that schools have no ability to line the pockets of legislators?
Here is the other problem. These tax cuts won’t stimulate the economy and the benefits that are coming to big business won’t “trickle down” to “average” Americans. How does a middle-aged public school music teacher know that? I read the newspaper and I study history. For over two years I’ve been writing about how Iowa is following the disastrous Kansas playbook when it comes to taxes and our new governor is bound and determined to continue down a path that we can just look to our west and see is a disaster.
The tax cuts happening at the state and local level are a giant smooch for the wealthy men and women who line the pockets of Republican legislators. In order to distract us from the smooching they have set it up so that “average” folks like you and I get a little bit in our pockets as well. The challenge for those of us who know the importance of public schools having adequate resources is that we don’t have money to give away and our victories aren’t about lining anyone’s pockets. I was in a kindergarten classroom last week where the students were working collaboratively to solve the problem of getting gingerbread man across a bucket of water without getting drowned. Those kindergartners were using critical thinking skills, they were being creative, they were communicating in complex ways, and they were collaborating to get the project done well. It was amazing. A kindergarten teacher who can get a classroom of young people to do that kind of work is priceless, and yet the end result of these most recent state and federal tax bills are that her work will be more difficult because she will have fewer resources and surely more students in her classroom in the coming year because legislators have chosen to make the budget “tight” for public schools (and other public services) in order to put more money in the pockets of those who are already wealthy.
I’m tired of the hypocrisy. The rich are getting richer and we are forcing our schools into austerity in order to serve a political narrative. This is only going to change at the ballot box my friends. Elections have consequences and the consequence of these actions has to be change in 2018.