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Jewish World Review Feb. 7, 2001 / 15 Shevat 5761

Don Feder

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Consumer Reports


On taxes and education, Bush is pro-choice

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- IN TRYING to sell President Bush's tax cut and education reform plans, proponents are taking the wrong approach. It's not about stimulating growth during an economic downturn on the one hand, or holding schools accountable on the other -- though these are admirable goals.

The essence of each proposal is increased opportunities for individuals and families.

Each would empower citizens to make vital decisions that will shape their future. Both are opposed by elites with an instinctive distrust of those who don't have a degree from the Kennedy School of Government or a Ph.D. in education theory.

Money is power. The more individuals and families are allowed to keep of what they earn, the greater their scope of action.

Bush's tax plan is advertised as a 10-year, $1.6 trillion cut (almost half of the projected surplus), which sounds like a staggering sum.

But let's put it in context. In the early '60s, John F. Kennedy proposed cutting taxes by 2 percent of Gross Domestic Product. Ronald Reagan slashed them by 3.3 percent. By contrast, Bush would lower the federal tax burden by 1.2 percent of GDP.

Reagan's bill reduced federal revenue 18.7 percent annually in a time of deficits. Bush would diminish total federal revenues by only 6.2 percent a year in a season of mega-surpluses.

Clinton's two terms were boom years for government. Between 1990 and 2000, federal taxes grew from 21.6 percent to 24.4 percent of personal income.

Bush is proposing to restore part of this plunder to its rightful owners. His plan would reduce rates across the board. A new 10 percent bracket would cover a substantial portion of income currently taxed at 15 percent. The 28 percent and 31 percent rates would be consolidated at 25 percent. The president's plan would also double the dependent child credit, taking it to $1,000, and eliminate the marriage tax penalty.

For a median-income family ($58,900 in wage income, two children, both spouses working), Bush would reduce federal taxes by $1,787 annually. What would you do with an extra $1,800 a year -- take a vacation, put a down payment on a new car, invest it for your retirement, sock it away for your kids' college education?

Do you really think Washington needs that money more than you do? It currently disposes of almost a quarter of your income and is now taking so much that even Congress can't figure out how to spend it all.

Bush's education plan is also about options. The voucher component, which is generating the most opposition, would (after a very long implementation period) provide $1,500 a year in Title I funding for poor children at hopelessly failing public schools.

This is being resisted by the likes of Sen. Ted Kennedy, whose two sons went to Phillips Academy and St. Albans, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose daughter, Chelsea, attended the exclusive Sidwell Friends School.

More important for the middle class, Bush would allow parents to deduct up to $5,000 a year for each child attending a private school.

The deduction would cover tuition, fees and supplies (including computers), and would go a long way toward making private education affordable for average Americans.

The education children receive affects the rest of their lives (which is why the Kennedys and Clintons give their cubs to the best that money can buy). Along with the poor, middle-class families presently are prisoners of the public school system -- unless they're willing to make significant sacrifices.

The recent improvement in test scores is a blip in the 35-year decline of public education. The average high-school student don't know much about history -- geography, math or English composition.

Inner-city schools are the worst. By comparison, the average suburban public school is merely mediocre, and that's exactly the education children consigned to them receive.

For a family in a 28 percent tax bracket, the Bush deduction will provide $1,445 a year for private schooling -- an amount which would cover almost all of the tuition at a Catholic elementary school and more than one-third of the tuition at the average parochial high school. There's a pleasing symmetry to Bush's major initiatives. They're about choice. They're about control of our lives. It's about time.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.


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