COMMUNITY VOICES | Tax breaks for the rich while minimum wage stalls


In a move that a Forbes Magazine article called a “boon to the well off” DFL Governor Mark Dayton, along with the DFL controlled Senate and House passed a “Tax Relief” bill with almost no opposition. The bill passed the Minnesota Senate on a 58-5 vote, and the House of Representatives with a vote of 126-2.

While Dayton ran his campaign on ‘tax the rich’ in order to win election, some of the provisions of this bill roll back taxes unpopular with Minnesota’s most wealthy individuals.

Dayton signed this bill part of which repealed, retroactively, Minnesota’s Gift Tax. Before the repeal, the Gift Tax allowed an individual to ‘gift’ $14,000 per year to each child, child’s spouse, and children of the child, with a lifetime cap of $1 million before the ‘hated tax’ even kicked in, after which the donor would have had to pay a 10% tax on the gifted amount ($2 million cap including the donor’s spouse). Clearly not a tax at a level that would effect more than a small number of the wealthiest Minnesotans.

Also included in the bill signed by Dayton were changes to the Estate Tax, which raises the exemption in Minnesota (the amount an individual can leave at death before taxes apply) from $1 million to $1.2 million, again retroactively, and will raise the exemption to $2 million by 2018.

These moves, when viewed in context of a DFL controlled Governor, Senate and House that cannot in the past two sessions agree to raise the minimum wage to a paltry $9.50/ hour demonstrate again that working people cannot rely on the DFL as a champion. Raising the minimum wage to $9.50, while completely inadequate, is nonetheless a change that would benefit somewhere around 500,000 Minnesotans.

These half a million are the lowest paid amongst us, hard-working people doing socially necessary work and yet our elected officials can’t seem to bring themselves to agreement to provide even modest relief for them. Yet, when confronted with an opportunity to repeal taxation on the wealthiest amongst us (a much smaller, not to mention less vulnerable population), our elected officials can reach near unanimous agreement, with the only complaints heard amongst them that we ‘haven’t cut the taxes enough’!

In a time when:


  • Corporate and wealthy individuals profits are at an all time high, and according to some estimates 95% of the gains since the recovery have gone to the top percentile of American ‘earners.’

  • Workers wages (as a percentage of GDP) are at an all time low.

  • Over the past 12 years, median household income fell by $9,934 in the Twin Cities, a decline of 13.1%.

How can it be that elected officials, going into an election year, can find the ability to agree to provide ‘relief’ to the wealthiest, while unable to take positive steps to benefit a much larger percentage of the public they represent?

The problem is that even as the DFL ‘representatives’ see themselves as fighting for the working person, against corporate power, etc. they in fact owe their political careers (and power) to a party machine that is itself dependent upon the largess of the very same powers they picture themselves fighting against. This makes it all but impossible for them to move beyond what is politically ‘safe’ in the context of that dependency. People elected in this fashion are constrained to fight for those they try to represent within the ‘practical’ boundaries prescribed by the system in which they are themselves entrenched.

How often have we, the working people, heard variations on: “it’s not enough, but we have to be practical and take what we can get”?

How long will we accept that? Perhaps most important, what is the alternative?

Every election cycle we as working class voters are too often faced with choosing between a candidate that is completely opposed to policies that are in the interest of the working class people, and one that speaks vaguely to our interests, but ultimately fails to come through for us in governance.

The current system, by its nature, causes a tendency to divide the vast majority of us, the working class, into smaller and smaller groupings. As we are forced to ‘compete’ for an ever shrinking piece of the economic pie, we seem to have to make unpleasant ‘practical choices.’ Choose between providing a decent standard of living for our elderly as they retire, or quality education for our youth. Between providing for the disadvantaged and the disabled and paying a decent wage to those that provide those services. Between jobs and the protection of our environment.

Socialist Alternative advocates for breaking out of this cycle by forming a mass workers’ party drawing together workers, young people and activists from workplace, community, civil rights, environmental and antiwar campaigns, to provide a fighting, political alternative to the corporate and business controlled Democratic and Republican parties.

Unions and other social movement organizations should stop funding and supporting the Democratic and Republican Parties in the vain hope of getting some small measure of support. They should instead organize independent left-wing, anti-corporate candidates and coalitions as a first step toward building this workers’ party.

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