Guest Columnists

Decisions must come before taxes

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The worst thing about tax cut discussions is the “Oh, look at the squirrel” distraction from what we should be talking about.

Example? Cutting Iowa employers’ taxes can’t create more jobs when employers say their real problem is a shortage of skilled workers.

If a skilled workforce is needed, it’s time to increase, not slash, funding for the state’s universities and community colleges that create those workers.

What is your vision for America?

Some believe we are a nation of 320 million rugged individualists, where everyone is obliged to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps — even those without boots. As Grover Norquist revealed, “My goal is to get government down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Others believe those benefiting from a community are morally obliged to care for everyone in the human family. Some cite Jesus’ urging us to provide food, drink, clothing, health care, and prison visits for “the least of these.”

Until we decide whether we want an America of rugged individualism or humanitarianism, little agreement on public policy can follow.

This newspaper is full of reporting and opinion about our plethora of policy challenges — affordable housing, education, environment, flood control, health care, homelessness, hunger, jobs, net neutrality, refugees, transportation, water quality. The Gazette’s Iowa Ideas project explores some answers.

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Lynda Waddington recently described Philip Alston’s U.N. report on U.S. poverty and human rights. Read his comparative rankings for U.S. infant mortality (highest), water and sanitation (36th in the world), incarceration rate (highest), youth poverty (highest), poverty and inequality (35th of 37).

We built this America. Is it the nation and state you want? No? Then fix it. How do we do that? In order:

1. Don’t start with tax talk.

2. Decide whether we’re rugged individualists or humanitarians.

3. Provide enforcement of metrics for the values and society we want — for ourselves and “the least of these” — not just aspirations.

4. Develop public policies that can reach those goals.

5. Calculate their costs.

6. Explore ways of accomplishing goals through education and training, philanthropy and volunteerism, churches and trade unions, corporate policies and cost avoidance, other innovative approaches.

7. Propose a tax code, consistent with community values, sufficient to provide the remaining, necessary public funding. And remember:

• No tax cuts until there are surpluses and declining debt.

• When corporations and the wealthy have trillions of dollars they don’t use, don’t hand them more.

• Consumer spending drives 70 percent of the economy. If stimulus is needed, give the money to the bottom 80 percent who will spend it.

8. Vote.

Philip Alston reports that only 64 percent of Americans bother to register, and many of them don’t vote. In Canada and the U.K., 91 percent register, 96 percent in Sweden, nearly 99 percent in Japan.

Could that possibly be a part of our problem?

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• Nicholas Johnson is a former law professor and commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission. Comments: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

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Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.