Republicans corrode the Copper State

In the current issue of Harper’s Magazine (July 2010) Ken Silverstein (one of the few remaining journalists in this dawning era of digital group think) has a startling description of the current workings of the GOP in “Tea Party in the Sonora,” with an assessment of the results of right-wing rule. It seems that Arizona has made a serious effort to wrest the title of guttersnipe of states from Mississippi, notwithstanding Haley Barbour’s interim stop as Medicaid-slashing governor on his tour from corporate lobbyist to the Oval Office.

Silverstein attributes Arizona’s inevitable decline to the kind of wealth-ocracy normally associated with the post-Confederate South to the composition of the state legislature, which, he says, is “composed almost entirely of dimwits, racists, and cranks.” Part of the problem comes from the neo-orthodoxy of Republicans who refuse any kind of tax increase whatsoever. Thirty-eight of Arizona’s legislators, according to Silverstein, have taken the pledge of the misnamed Americans for Tax Reform to never vote for a tax increase, read their damned lips. It doesn’t matter if one tax increase is offset by a tax decrease. If there’s a particularly bad tax, the solution is to get rid of it and never replace it — the goal is to eliminate taxes altogether, to return to a sort of Eden where men can live off their capital without work. And Republicans are willing to achieve this even (or especially) if it means we must all forswear everything we’ve learned from the original couple’s eating from the Tree of Knowledge. (Barbour by the way vetoed a proposal to increase the cigarette tax and decrease the grocery tax.  Although Barbour is also a pledgee of the Americans for Tax Reform, in his case the distaste for cigarette taxes might be owing to his former membership in Barbour Griffith & Rogers, big tobacco’s friend in need and deed.)

Silverstein shows how this mania has devastated Arizona.  He also shows how it works:  Arizona now has tax exemptions for everything from country clubs to pedicures.  If the theory behind selective tax exemptions is to encourage an economic activity that otherwise couldn’t support itself (that’s how Adam Smith would see it), then Arizona must have decided they have to take the lead in the campaign to eliminate Onychomycosis from the face of the earth.

The lure of the tax cut is the dangerous siren song of Republicans generally.  Sometimes it has caused them to lose discipline, and divert them from the greater goal of destroying government for the immediate gratification of lessening taxes.  Harry Reid in the US Senate has been able to pick off a few Republicans like Scott Brown by adding tax deductions or credits to bills the Republican Party frowns on, such a bills designed to pull the country from its current Recession.  Mitch McConnell probably wished he had some of that wax that Odysseus used to stop up the ears of the men with weaker wills than either McConnell or Odysseus so that he could more easily steer the party towards its goal.

No such problem in Arizona.  The state has a clear objective:  to make over Arizona into the image of Guatamala in the glory days of Carlos Castillo (minus the Hispanics, of course).  They sing of Armas and the man.  One government employee told Silverstein:

“People who have swimming pools don’t need state parks. If you buy your books at Borders you don’t need libraries. If your kids are in private school, you don’t need K–12. The people here, or at least those who vote, don’t see the need for government. Since a lot of the population are not citizens, the message is that government exists to help the undeserving, so we shouldn’t have it at all. People think it’s OK to cut spending, because ESL is about people who refuse to assimilate and health care pays for illegals.”

(I wonder if the collections of even the Arizona libraries are limited to what is sold at Borders. Probably everything that a taxpaying citizen of Arizona would want, but I digress.)

And for all their faithful devotion to principle, Republicans are entitled to a little compensation, a little vig, no? And that’s evidently what State Representative Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) believes. According to the Arizona Education Association Rep. Yarbrough has led the successful fight for tuition tax credits. So far so good, right? More tax relief. But here’s a complicating factor.  Rep. Yarbough also owns the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization. That can’t be bad, right? After all it’s Christian and only donates to Christian schools. His organization is the largest of so-called STOs in Arizona, the point of which is “to facilitate the Arizona Private School Tuition Tax Credit. [An STO] accepts contributions from Arizona income taxpayers for the benefit of children attending participating schools. Donors may then be eligible to claim a tax credit that reduces dollar for dollar, any income tax owed to the state of Arizona,” according to the explanation of another of Arizona’s STOs. What could possibly be sweeter than that?  You get to do good by donating to a Christian organization, and it costs you nothing because the state will whack it off your tax bill. And the beast of government is slowly starved. Everyone’s a winner! This scheme undoubtedly was designed by St. Matthew after he stopped being the tax collector and became a Christian.

And even Rep. Yarbrough wins by doing good.  According to the Arizona Christian State Tuition Organization, Inc.‘s website, although the law only requires 90% of donations to be spent on “scholarships,” ACSTO spends a whopping 92.4%.  Thus, good government guy that he undoubtedly is, although in 2007 (the last reporting year) ACSTO took in $11.4 million in tax-reimbursed “donations,” Rep Yarbrough voluntarily limited his own salary to $100,000.  This is only 4 times what he makes as a legislator to fight for such a godly program.  (Needless to say, these organizations are also exempt from Federal taxes under IRC §501(c)(3).  If only some Republican could see to it that donations could also be deducted from Federal taxes, then we’d see some real movement toward Guatamala!)

All of this makes you want to move with all your children to Arizona.  Unless, of course, you have a Spanish accent.

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