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Editor's column: Is it fair to make the rich pay?

February 19, 2011
By Per Peterson

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton did his best Robin Hood impersonation this week, proposing in his budget to raise taxes on the top 5 percent of income earners, and it makes me wonder: Is it fair to tax the rich?


Why? Just because they're rich?

Says the man who makes 28 grand a year.

Or the college student struggling to repay his student loans.

Or the poor man down the street who just got laid off.

Or the single mom whose two jobs prevent her from going back to school.

Or the guy who can't find anything good in the help wanted section of today's classifieds.

Yeah, ask just about anybody and they'll say, "Hit 'em and hit 'em hard."

That's understandable.

They, we, are all part of the have-nots of this world, comparatively speaking. We live paycheck to paycheck, and we're not the ones signing them. We hope there's money left in the account at the end of the month. We pray that knocking under the hood is something minor (or just ignore it altogether because we can't put anymore money into that piece of ).

But on the other hand, should Minnesota's wealthiest be penalized for being wealthy? They work just as hard as anyone. They've earned their money, so why should they have to fork over a bigger chunk of it? Because it makes the most sense, that's why. At least in a lesser-of-many evils sense.

Dayton has proposed a new fourth income tax tier at 10.95 percent for joint filers over $150,000 and head of household filers over $130,000 and a temporary income surtax of 3 percent for all filers over $500,000. Temporary? Nice thought, but who's to say for sure if it will go away in three years like we're being told? He also proposes a statewide property tax on homes valued over $1,000,000.

Still, DFL Rep. Andrew Falk said he doesn't feel like the rich are "taking a hit."

"The fact of the matter,"?he said, "is when you're considered wealthy?- in the top 5 percent in Minnesota?- you pay an effective tax rate of about 9 percent of state taxes. If you're in the middle income range you're paying about 13 percent. Who benefits more from what Minnesota has to offer - the person working in the middle class for a company, or is it the business owner taking advantage of the fact that we have a skilled workforce; we have a department of agriculture that's got one of the premier food safety inspection agencies in the nation. We've got all these companies that benefit from the fact that we have very valuable public services.

"The wealthy individuals didn't get to where they are by themselves,"?he added. "I commend them for their hard work and ideas, but to say they got there on their own, that's not the case."

Republicans are still trying to catch their breath. Some probably got a headache from shaking their head while reading Dayton's budget. "Feeble" and "pathetic" were words used by the state's top-ranking Republican, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, to describe Dayton's plan. And, from a business standpoint, Ghent Republican Rep. Chris Swedzinski says Dayton's proposal is nothing short of an invitation for businesses to pack up and head for greener, less-taxed pastures.

"If you're a small business owner, is this the climate you want to be in?"?he said this week.

"There are some horrifying tax increases in there,"?added Slayton Republican Sen. Doug Magnus. "The fact that you increase taxes that much on a class of people we're wondering how many of those people are going to leave the state."

Many of the rich might live within their means, but those are means we can't relate to. Their homes are bigger, their cars are nicer, they have cabins at the lake nicer than many homes. To this, they are all deserving, save the Hecker- Petters-type snakes who attained some of their wealth illegally, or at least tried to. It can be a long climb to the top and the highest income earners in this state have made it, so they're the ones who you would think should be able to shoulder more of a tax burden. Besides, the state can't take any more away from the middle and lower classes. We're hurting as it is.

There might be those reading this who disagree with everything I've written, and that's fine. But chances are, if you do, you're one of those 5 percent and you're ticked anyway. Still, I'd rather be in your shoes, even though I probably couldn't afford them.



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