Democrats in our state Legislature have proposed an imaginative way to raise an extra $48 million a year to cover the state’s budget shortfall. They’d like to tax the rich more. Rich being, in their definition, single tax payers making more than $150,000, heads-of-household making more than $225,000 and married couples filing jointly who make more than $300,000. The state’s new top tax rate would be 11 percent instead of 8.5 percent.
Here’s how state Rep. Pono Chong defends this: “We’re asking everybody to give a little. And we felt this income bracket could help a little.”
Well, no, representative, you are not asking everybody to give a little. You’re only asking a few people to give more.
In Hawai‘i, there are people who go to work everyday and do their jobs. They work late, work weekends. They sacrifice family time, leisure time. None of them can afford to quit their jobs, they aren’t rich enough to quit their jobs—their jobs pay their bills.
When these people are hotel housekeepers, we call them the working class. When they are neurosurgeons, or business owners, or bank vice presidents, we call them the rich and single them out for special taxes. The income levels the Legislature is aiming at are high—in 2007, the median household income in Hawaii was $62,613—but these are still the incomes of people who work for a living. Their alarms scream at them in the morning, their BlackBerrys interrupt them during dinner, they sit in their cars in the same long commutes as everybody else, day after day, year after year.
I worry about the long-term corrosive effect of policies that pit working people against each other. Tax proposals such as these are not value-free assertions that the neurosurgeon can afford to pay more taxes than the housekeeper. They are also assertions that the neurosurgeon doesn’t deserve to keep the same percentage of her income as the housekeeper.
What makes us think so?
What would our tax and social policies in Hawaii look like if Democrats would, even occasionally, expand their definition of working class to include everyone who works?