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Inside Politics: Tax the Rich? Idahoans Don’t Care.
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Inside Politics

Inside Politics: Tax the Rich? Idahoans Don’t Care.

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Last year Reclaim Idaho launched the “Invest in Idaho” education voter initiative which would have provided hundreds of millions of dollars for Idaho’s public schools, stabilized property taxes around Idaho, and helped bring Capitalism back to the Gem State. While the Pandemic brought signature-gathering operations to a halt, volunteers collected tens of thousands of signatures before door-to-door contacts became untenable.

To pay for the measure, Reclaim Idaho proposed modest tax increases on incomes over $250,000 for individuals, over $500,000 for couples, and a return to the old corporate income tax back when we actually invested in education. Mind you, the tax increases would only apply to incomes over the amounts mentioned above. In other words, an individual making $250,000 would see no new taxes. If that same individual made $251,000, they would see increased taxes on the extra $1,000.

I played a big part in shaping the message for the campaign and, intuitively, figured the “tax” element of the initiative would be the hardest sell. As a former lifetime Republican, I knew Right Wing Party members would balk at the very mention of the word. I literally did a seven-minute TV interview about the initiative without ever using the word “tax” – much to the consternation of the interviewer.

Then, I started travelling around the state collecting signatures. I stumped in Right Wing districts and Democratic districts, rich and poor, Trump voters and Obama voters. In one week, I collected signatures from registered Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians and even a Constitution Party member (I didn’t realize that was even a party in this state). In all cases, people wanted to know about the tax increases. Remember, I actually coached people on how to avoid this subject. But, once I explained to voters who would actually be taxed, I got a surprising response.

Nobody cared.

Here’s a typical encounter with a Right-Wing Party voter when asked to sign the initiative:

Me: “This initiative will provide hundreds of millions of dollars for Idaho public schools”

Them: “How are you going to pay for it?”

Me: “There will be modest increases on incomes over $250,000 for individuals and over $500,000 for couples. Corporations will also see a modest increase.”

Them: “(laughter) Well, that’s not me. Does anyone in this county even make that kind of money?”

I was stunned. Right-Wingers across Idaho were perfectly fine with modest tax increases on the rich so long as it funded schools, increased Idaho teacher salaries and helped stabilize their property taxes.

America seems to agree.

President Biden is proposing a host of infrastructure, health care and education measures that will be paid for by tax increases on the rich as well as a huge leap in the capital gains tax. If you are reading this, chances are those proposals will not affect you or your family. Because Idaho’s politicians have made us a Poor State, you can probably count on two hands the number of Idahoans who would be impacted by these proposals.

Maybe that’s why President Biden has 60-percent support or more for his programs. Maybe that’s why the Trump tax giveaway to corporations and rich folks was the first tax giveaway in American history to actually have a negative approval rating.

Working Idahoans just don’t care.

Idahoans have been saddled with spiraling property tax increases that force them out of their homes as well as stagnant wages that don’t even keep up with inflation. Idahoans are sick of out-of-staters coming in with their inflated home sale money, driving up property taxes, and living off what Idahoans have already created.

Californians in. Idahoans out.

As a former lifetime Republican, the idea of raising taxes on any of us is blasphemy. Turns out, I was wrong. Working Americans, and working Idahoans, are perfectly fine with the rich paying for what they can afford. In a state like Idaho that continues to reject Capitalism at every turn, maybe they should.

America and Idaho seem to agree on one thing: there is nothing wrong with the successful paying more to ensure more people will be successful. We all benefit as a result.

Taxing the rich? Idahoans and Americans don’t care.

Perhaps that is a lesson for all of us.

Jeremy J. Gugino is a Democratic communications volunteer.

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