In my earlier post on the way that Missouri politicos are tripping over themselves to try to lure Boeing away from Washington, I noted that a few state legislators were resisting the pressure. In the Missouri House 3 of these stalwarts were Democrats and 17 were Republicans. For those of us with a progressive bent, the question is why the imbalance?
We can assume that the objections on the right side of the isle mirror those of several conservative organizations that lobbied against the Governor’s proposed tax breaks:
United for Missouri, a conservative activist group, took to social media on Monday to call on its members to “Stop the Governor’s Proposed Expansion of Corporate Welfare” […] In a post on its website, the group said the legislature should instead reallocate existing tax credits and pass “broad based” tax reform, not targeted tax credit expansion.
“Does all this mean that Missouri should not try to capture the new Boeing plant? Absolutely not,” the group wrote, “[b]ut the legislature should not expand corporate welfare in doing so!”
The Show Me Institute, a conservative think-tank, also voiced their opposition to the proposal, calling it the “definition of cronyism,” and, like United for Missouri, said they were in favor of broader tax changes like they supported in House Bill 253, legislation vetoed by Nixon that would have slashed corporate taxes and provided fractional relief for individuals.
As much as I loathe what these organizations stand for, I applaud their principled stance and that of the 17 House Republicans against corporate welfare when it is applied in such an unfair and discriminatory fashion. They are right that for every Boeing that is able to throw around enough weight to get what it wants from local governments, there are thousands of small businesses that continue to pay full freight.
Nevertheless, the real issue for these folks isn’t really corporate welfare, it’s the way that it is applied. They want to exempt all businesses – and in some cases, all individuals – from taxes, cut government services to a bare minimum, and if we must have taxes, make them regressive consumption taxes. Their real objection is that tax exemptions for Boeing don’t go far enough, but should be the norm for all business and to hell with revenue to support government that serves the needs of actual people. These are rigidly ideological rather than pragmatic thinkers, espousing an ideology that has revealed itself to be rotten to the core time and time again.
Contrast this stance with that articulated by one of the Democrats, Rep. Stephen Webber, who opposed the Boeing package proposed by the Governor. Webber was aware of the fairness issue, declaring that “we have a lot of hard working business owners in Columbia and I don’t see why we should make them pay more than a multibillion dollar corporation.” He also, however, articulated pragmatic concerns. The Columbia Daily Tribune reported:
But for Webber, the bill was weak, had too many loopholes and gave away too much. “We give away billions and say ‘why can’t we fund the schools?’ ” Webber said. “The answer is right there in this bill.”
There you have it. The difference between conservatives and liberals in a nutshell. On the one hand, rigid ideologues who will always take the “principled” stand regardless of the real-world consequences for the people who stand to loose or gain the most. In this case, they’re willing to work over one of their corporate allies, but they are just as firm – or even firmer – when the entity to be worked over is part of the 99%. On the other hand, however, we have liberals and progressives who perceive and respect issues of principle, but who are more than anything motivated by the overweening principle that they serve the needs of real, live people.
One can also assume that it is the same type of pragmatism that has led other Democrats to support the Governor’s incentive package. Of course, we know that there are always political survival considerations somewhere in the background, but I think it’s safe to assume that in contrast to Webber, most of the Democrats concluded that the possibility of lots of jobs outweighs the loss of tax revenue and the uncertainty about positive outcomes, as well as any reservations they may harbour about the process.
One may or may not agree about the conclusions these folks have drawn or about Rep. Webber’s rationale, but when we’re between the proverbial rock and hard place – and the pros and cons of the Boeing situation looks a lot like a rock and a hard place to me – we’ll definitely do better in the long run if the folks coming to our aid are at least willing to deal with the real world in something approximating a concrete fashion. Before you can clear your backyard of rocks and hard places you have to be able to get yourself out from in between.