President Obama and congressional candidates are tripping over themselves trying to convince voters that they will have a tax plan to soak the rich, help the middle class and jump-start small business.
They want to entice people to spend what money they have and sway wary investors to shake loose with the $13 trillion currently tucked away waiting for more certain economic and political times.
Visible tax relief is but a small part of the equation for struggling people and employers. It is the hidden taxes imbedded in the family grocery, phone and power bills that are killing us.
Take electricity for example. Ratepayers, you and me, wonder why we are seeing our electricity costs ratcheting up. The power companies get the blame because people only see the increases in their monthly bills. So while the politicians can beat their chest boasting about all of the new requirements they have put in place, they don't tell us how much they cost.
Another case in point: Washington state is blessed with an abundance of low cost, greenhouse-free hydroelectric power - but it's not considered renewable in our state. Neither is wind, solar or biomass energy generated outside the Bonneville Power Administration service area. Nor is wood-waste energy generated from pulping liquors.
Even though current law under Initiative 937 mandates utilities to buy and sell more renewable power, lawmakers in Olympia have refused to amend it. So we feel it in our pocketbooks.
On top of that, the EPA is processing a batch of stiff new regulations on wood-waste generation projects that will not only drive up costs for that renewable energy, but in effect may prevent some from being built. As a result, the same renewable resources the state is encouraging are being tubed by the feds.
The effect is that as our population increases and demand for electricity grows, the law of supply and demand kicks-in. So our power bills keep going up and up!
Case in point: In the early 1970s as a congressional staffer, each summer I was handed a dozen of the most dire Social Security cases and sent back to western Montana. My assignment was to help these people weave through the maze of government regulations so they could qualify for supplemental Social Security payments.
Each person I met with had a stack of unpaid bills, including past due electricity invoices that ranged from $90 to $150 a month. Their total incomes ranged from $325 to $375 a month. Their homes and apartments were poorly insulated, which caused their heating bills to spike during winter months.
They were poor, elderly and mostly widows. They stayed home raising their kids, had little formal education, and took in wash and ironing to earn some extra money.
The bottom line was they were not making it financially and didn't need more expenses.
Fast forward to 2010. Today, there are thousands of other federal, state and local regulations draining family checkbooks and business bank accounts in the same way. You don't hear the politicians talking about that in their television ads.
The politicians, bureaucrats and activists who cavalierly tell us that we ought to smile and absorb all of these hidden taxes need to sit down with today's seniors and working families - like the kind of folks I met with 40 years ago. They'd get a whole new perspective on how all of these new mandates, confusing regulations, delays in permit processing, and edicts impact people.
Politicians don't have to wait until the political winds are blowing in the right direction to start. They just need to sit down, put themselves in the place of the average American - and listen.
- Don C. Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business (www.awb.org).