Sen. John Thune said in the Rapid City Journal on Monday that his "biggest priority for the remainder of the year" is tax reform. Thune wants to send the president a package that will help "middle-class South Dakotans who are struggling to make ends meet."
That's a nice enough sentiment, but while Thune's heart is in the right place, I'm not sure his head is following suit. In fact, Thune kept his bias against middle-class consumers out of his Journal piece. On his website, he was recently praising the general thrust of his trickle-down tax reform philosophy by saying we "need to move our tax system more toward taxing consumption rather than savings and investment."
He then reveals a lack of interest or attention to his home state's constant struggle with that very tax policy by stating that "South Dakota is, of course, a great example of how to do this at the state level." Yes, "of course."
Thune's infatuation with our state's regressive tax structure is so complete that he now wants to inflict it on the rest of the country. Does the senator understand that our reliance on sales taxes has led to a regular budget reset derby among state government officials who've had to change projections twice during the past three years because sales tax receipts fell significantly short of expectations?
This is what happens in a state where consumption (sales and gross receipts) taxes are the dominant source of revenues. South Dakota in 2015 got 82.4 percent of its state revenue from sales taxes, compared to a national average of 23.3 percent. And Thune calls South Dakota a "great example" of efficient taxation? Please.
Meantime, when it comes to championing the economic interests of South Dakota's mid- to lower-income residents, Thune's proposal to focus on tax relief for savings and investments means virtually squat. In his Journal piece, the senator notes that half the public lives paycheck to paycheck and that a third are $400 away from a serious financial crisis.
I doubt South Dakotans who fit that profile are cheering Thune's notion that a tax break for those who save and invest will make them better off. In his website's trickle-down polemic, Thune claims that Reagan-era tax cuts were responsible for the economy's bounce-back during the 1980s, completely ignoring that federal spending increased by 2.5 percent a year from 1981-1989. The federal debt during that era went from $997 billion to $2.85 trillion.
Those who know something about John Maynard Keynes and his theories about government spending driving economic growth are sagely nodding their heads. We also wonder why trickle-down proponents never mention Reagan's ballooning deficits.
I cheer the prospects for Thune's style of tax-cutting as lustily as any of my peers in the business community, but I also know that without consumers my business interests wouldn't amount to much. Consumer spending represents more than 70 percent of the American economy. Giving us business types some tax relief is indeed likely to drive more investment and capital spending, but to do so by "moving our tax system more toward taxing consumption rather than savings and investment" makes no sense.
Thune needs to focus on those who spend, not on those who save.