President Clinton followed in the footsteps of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson when he toured the Appalachian poverty trail. The president's anti-poverty proposals resemble those of Kennedy and Johnson: salvation by government. But, like those politicians of the past who have opted for photo-ops in Bedford Stuyvesant, the Appalachian trail makes nice pictures while improving no one's lot. Speaking in Hazard, Ky., the president said he hopes to use tax credits to "inspire" private companies to build plants and stores in Appalachia. What's this? A cut in a company's taxes will inspire that company to expand its business? Tax cuts as an anti-poverty program previously have been strongly opposed by this president. He seems to believe people cannot be trusted with their own money. Cutting taxes for everyone so we might have more financial discretion is an invitation to irresponsibility, Bill Clinton has said. If any tax breaks are to be granted, the president wants to make sure "the extra" money will be "targeted" where the government wants. Ever notice how government never has enough money and cannot afford to close failed agencies? Government never asks if we can afford higher taxes. The Congressional Budget Office projects a $3 trillion "surplus" over the next decade. Excluding Social Security payroll taxes, the "surplus" is still $1 trillion. State and local governments report coffers brimming with "extra" cash. But with some exceptions, government is looking for ways to tax and spend more. The Wake County, N.C., commissioners recently voted 4-3 to raise local property taxes a whopping 16 percent. In Wyoming, a tax committee claims a $183-million "shortfall" and recommends an income tax, a broadened sales tax, an increase in liquor and cigarette taxes, and a real-estate transfer tax. Republican Gov. Jim Geringer and many legislators have opposed any income tax in the past, but now say they'll give it serious consideration. On the way to Dayton, Ohio, last week, I noticed three levels of federal taxes on my airline ticket, adding nearly $75 to the cost. In Dayton, my hotel bill included a New York-like list of state, city, and county taxes, adding more than $12 to the cost. Excessive taxation is a relatively new phenomenon. Since 1993, Mr. Clinton's first year in the White House, per person taxes have increased by 25 percent. Checked your phone bill lately? I've lost count of the number of overt and hidden taxes. As House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer noted in The Wall Street Journal two weeks ago, tax cuts make good sense in good times. The best way to get money into the hands of people who are responsible for revitalizing the economy and who could extend it even to Appalachia is to get government out of the money-management business and turn more of it, along with greater responsibility for managing our lives, over to us. Class warfare has been fueled by the tax code and the presumption that if you're making $10 and I'm making $5 then you owe me $2.50 to make it "fair" and the government has a right to take your money and give it to me regardless of the reasons for your making more money than I make. We are locked into a mentality that there is a limited amount of money to go around. Statist politicians exploit this fear. In Appalachia, if one wishes to raise all boats, it's not as simple as opening up new businesses. This isn't like planting corn. Are there enough literate and sufficiently educated people in the region with useful work experience who would make good employees? Businesses think of such things. Mr. Clinton's march through parts of Appalachia is not about solutions. It's about the Clinton legacy and trying to help Al Gore to succeed him. If the president really wanted to do something that will help all Americans, including those in Appalachia, he would fulfill his vow that "the era of big government is over," reduce its size, lower its cost, and give us some of our money back.
© 1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate