Editorial: Targeting the wealthy

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 25, 2009

With federal and state leaders focusing revenue hopes on the upper tax brackets, these are not good days for the wealthy.
But even on a bad day, they’re still wealthy. So far.
Middle- and low-income families are reeling from the recession’s setbacks, so government is running out of options.
President Obama is eying a surtax on the rich to help finance health care reform. “To me, that meets my principle that it’s not being shouldered by families who are already having a tough time,” he said last week.
Gov. Bev Perdue, who will consider an income tax surcharge on the wealthy only, recently rejected an across-the-board tax increase to balance the state budget. She wondered aloud about the lawmakers who proposed it: “Who in the world thinks, in these trying times for families, you can raise income tax for working families and middle class families?”
So far the Board of County Commissioners, City Council and area town boards have not found a way to zero in on the wealthy, but give them time. Large land holders obviously pay more in property taxes than those with little, but all pay the same tax rate.The people who are land rich and cash poor can be thankful for that.
At the federal level, at least, recent years have been good for the wealthy. The top tax rate of 39.6 percent in the Clinton era was far below the 70 percent rate of the 1960s and 1970s. The Bush years brought the rate down to 35 percent, where it is not likely to stay for long.
Economist John Kenneth Galbraith said taxes were a great civilizing influence. “One of the things that best helps the poor and the deprived to bear life,” Galbraith said, “is to hear the occasional screams of the rich.”
The poor and deprived may get an earful this year.