Editor's Notes

Taxing the rich never seems to be on the table

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tredmond@sfbg.com

Calling for painful spending cuts, it turns out, is the easy part. Calling for relatively painless tax increases requires real political courage.

— The New York Times, March 13

The Times is hardly a crazy socialist rag; it's always been the voice of the establishment, more Democrat than Republican but never even close to radical. The Gray Lady certainly can't be accused of fomenting class warfare.

But in a calm, measured tone this week, the paper made the exact point about New York State that some of us whose politics lean a bit more to the left have been making about San Francisco.

The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has presented the state Legislature with an all-cuts budget. The Times suggests that the wealthier residents of the state should share just a small amount of the economic pain. Extending a surtax on high earners would be more than tolerable, the paper notes:

"A couple with $350,000 in taxable income would simply continue to pay an extra $3,500; a couple with taxable income of $1.5 million would continue to pay $31,800 more. Those payments would be more than offset by the federal tax breaks those same taxpayers got with the recent renewal of the Bush-era tax cuts."

Of course, in New York, as here, those state tax payments are deductible from the already-too-low federal income taxes the rich are paying.

It's too much to ask that the San Francisco Chronicle pick up that line; the Chron, out here on the Left Coast, is far more conservative than the stodgy old Times. But you'd think that in a city where Republican voter registration is below 10 percent, that local officials — including a mayor who calls himself "progressive" — would be able to go at least as far as a moderate national newspaper.

Because the argument is pretty simple and basic.

Cuts in public services fall hardest on the poor and middle class. Families that can afford to join a private club don't have to worry when hours at the city pools are cut back; their kids learn to swim anyway. People with good health insurance can try to ignore the conditions at San Francisco General Hospital. Private school parents think the size of classrooms in the public schools isn't a big factor in their lives.

But it all comes back to haunt us, every one of us, in this city. When the number of beds in General's psych ward is cut from 80 to 20, more people with severe mental illness are out on the streets. Cutting public schools not only makes class divisions more deeply entrenched, it damages the city's economy.

As the Times says, painful cuts are easy. Taxing the rich never seems to be on the table