Post-Tax-Day Musings | Bob Edwards Gets Axed

States’ Rates—As Mark Twain put it, the only difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector is that “the taxidermist takes only your skin.” Now the Tax Foundation, a conservative anti-tax research group in Washington, has compiled a new list of how much skin state and local governments take from their taxpayers, and of course it is mostly more and more.

Twenty financially pinched states have raised taxes in the past year. If the tax bite makes voters turn out and bark on Election Day, it will be worth noting that Ohio, which is billed as the most important “battleground state” in the 2004 presidential election, jumped from having the 14th heaviest state tax burden to the third heaviest. Only in New York and Maine were state taxes higher. Washington, DC, would be right up there with them, but of course it is not a state.

These ratings are based on state income and sales taxes and local property taxes. Compared with the federal tax take, all of that is penny-ante. Adding federal taxes raises New York’s state and local tax burden from 12.9 percent of average incomes to 32.3 percent. Only in Connecticut and the District of Columbia do the state-federal totals match New York’s. The total state-federal tax whack in most states is in the mid-20s percent.

To see how you are doing, go to the Tax Foundation study at www.taxfoundation.org and look for “State and Local Tax Burdens.”

The Tax Whack—If you are still sane after meeting the April 15 filing deadline, you can find some comfort in the observation of the cowboy comedian Will Rogers that the income tax has “made liars out of more Americans than the game of golf.”

Congress legalizes some of the lying by providing loopholes like the recent authorization for “small businesses” to deduct the cost of a new SUV. It’s a “truck,” see?

Now that you have time to turn off your calculator, that particular abuse and more are covered in readable detail in the book Perfectly Legal—The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich, and Cheat Everybody Else, by David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times reporter. A good book.

And Here’s Your Change—Alaska, which has such low state taxes that it rates lowest in it combined state and federal tax burden, always gets big bonuses in what has traditionally been called “pork”the “bring-home-the-bacon” provisions that have been sneakily inserted into Congressional appropriations.

There is more pork this year than ever before—$22.9 billion for 10,656 special projects in Congressional members’ home territory. That averages out to $31 per American citizen. But for Alaska, the state rewarded most by the manipulations of senator, Ted Stevens, who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and its single Republican Representative, Don Young, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, the hidden benefits come to $808 per person.

A Washington watchdog group, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), publishes an annual almanac detailing the spoils largely ignored by the mainstream media. CAGW’s 2004 Congressional Pig Book lists the loot state by state, and is available for $5 by phoning them a credit card number at 1-800-232-6479 (they give their phone number as 1-800-Be-Angry) or by mailing $5 to CAGW, 1301 Connecticut Avenue N.W., Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036. If you want to hunt and peck your way to the information by computer, some of it, including the state-by-state loot list, is on the Web at www.cagw.org.

Mourning Edition—The discovery that National Public Radio (NPR) is ousting Bob Edwards, the host of its Morning Edition news program for all of the show’s 25 years on the air, has raised a lot of hackles. NPR managers called the Edwards sign-off “part of a natural evolution” of the program—words interpreted by Edwards admirers as an NPR judgment that, at age 56, he is regarded as “too old.” Too old to have 13 million listeners a week?

Barely noticed was an earlier appointment by the Bush White House of two outspoken conservatives, both major contributors to Republican campaign funds, to the citizens’ board that oversees the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the funder of much of the work of both NPR and PBS, the Public Broadcasting System. When we asked if these G.O.P. heavyweights had influenced NPR’s termination of Edwards as the Morning Edition anchor, an NPR spokeswoman snapped “absolutely not.”