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Oh, SmAlbany!

Daily posts and occasional longer essays about politics, culture, and life in the Capital Region...updated M-F, midmorning


"I write this not as a booster of Albany, which I am, nor an apologist for the city, which I sometimes am, but rather as a person whose imagination has become fused with a single place, and in that place finds all the elements that a man ever needs..." -W. Kennedy, from O Albany!

Chaz Schumer makes a visit

Freezin' Seniors: Never one to miss a photo op or press conference, Chaz Schumer was in town today to talk heating oil, specifically the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. He gave his pitch at the home of seniors Steven and Bernice Rudzinski, who had this to say:
If we don't fully fund the LIHEAP we could run out of money before Christmas. What kind of Christmas present would that be on Christmas Eve to have senior citizens have to turn down their heat to 50 degrees? To have senior citizens not have any money to visit their grandchildren or give their grandkids a nice little Christmas present. That is not the American way.
That's not good. I can't even get SJC to turn our heat below 68, and it's not even Thanksgiving yet. She'd pull together a bonus army and march on Washington before I could even think of heading into the 50's with that thing. And I'm also somone's grandson - wouldn't want Grandma to freeze, and I certainly don't want her crying poor come Christmas morning. Schumer added this:
an average home in the Capital Region can expect to pay $441 more than last year.
Wow. I could definitely use that $441 dollars, and so could Grandma. That's a lot of Christmas presents. Vote Schumer if you want Christmas gifts from Grandma! Of course, doesn't Schumer want to repeal the 2001 tax cuts, which would cost many average people triple that amount? Just askin'! Uh, vote Republican if you want Christmas gifts from Grandma!

Oh well, guess I can't win.*** Grandma always said you could just put on a sweater...thanks for taking time out for another trip into the wild visit upstate, Senator.

***Alert, public policy discussion ahead: Of course, I recognize that my position here is somewhat silly, as is mentioned in the comments. I don't think it's ridiculous to oppose tax cuts and simultaneously support entitlement programs. In fact, it's perfectly logical since Schumer is talking about the distribution of tax rates and entitlement benefits in each instance, not their absolute amounts. If he just wanted to raise taxes by $50 on everyone, collect the money, and then send everyone $50, well that would be ridiculous. But that's not what he's talking aobut. He wants to raise taxes in a progressive manner (i.e. collect more from the rich) and increase entitlements in a regressive manner (i.e. give more to the poor). That's a perfectly consistent and reasonable approach to progressive government. In fact, that is the progressive apporach to government.

I was trying to do three things in the post. First, poke fun of the way in which the heating debate was couched. Wouldn't it make more sense to say that if seniors had to pay high heating bills, they woudn't have money for some necessities? Christmas presents are, after all, luxury items for the most part. Why not talk about seniors not being able to afford food, or having to forgo their medication? Seemed silly.

Second, I was gently reminding people that a lot of working and middle class folks get squeezed in the progressive world Schumer is talking about. Since the progressive tax rate is not all that progressive, many people in the working and middle class would end up paying higher taxes under a repeal of the 2001 cuts, but aren't poor enough to qualify for many programs, such as the heating oil program. Such is life. And such is why tax cuts are so popular. Now, if we could find a way to soak the uber-rich for like a 90% tax rate, then we wouldn't have to tax the working and middle class so hard to generate revenue, and support for these programs would skyrocket, since the working and middle class would have nothing to lose. Unfortunately, no one in America wants to tax the rich at 90%, because everyone believes in the American dream - that they themselves might someday be one of the rich.

Finally, I was trying to make fun of Schumer. He's a great advocate for New York State and he always brings home the bacon, but he's a little goofy when it comes to upstate living. I'm not sure he really gets it. So I always like to needle him a bit.

Even more in-depth: From a political theory point of view, there are two governmental solutions to help people pay higher heating bills. One is to collect tax money, set up a program, and redistribute the tax money. The other is to not collect the tax money in the first place! Obviously, the second method fails when you get to people who don't pay any income taxes - the very poor and the fixed-income elderly. They would benefit from a prgram but not from a tax cut. And that's who Schumer is talking about, and LIHEAP is actually a program I support, for that reason. But for everyone else - the vast majority - the program Schumer is talking about does nothing to help offset the cost of heating this winter, whereas the 2001 tax cuts do.
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At 3:34 PM , Anonymous alydar said:

I don't really see how Schumer's support of a program for heating for seniors means he can't also favor repealing the 2001 tax cut. By the logic of the position you stake out, since Chuck wants to repeal the tax cut, he cannot be for any entitlement program. Is the reverse true? Would it be illogical for a Senator to be for the tax cut but at the same time for an entitlement program?    



At 3:52 PM , Blogger Matt said:

Hi Alydar:

I updated my post to reflect your concern. In general, I don't think social programs are particular good things if they target people who could get the same benefit from a targeted tax cut. Tax cuts have no overhead or transaction costs, and are thus more efficient ways of redistributing money.

The exception, of course, is people who don't pay taxes, such as the very poor or the elderly. Obviously, we need governmental transfer programs to assist them in various ways, because we can't cut their taxes any further. Thus I fully support things like LIHEAP. I'd probably prefer just a lump sum transfer of money for all services, since it'd be most efficient, but that wouldn't fly since lots of people would get upset if seniors spent the transfer on booze instead of heat. So the government program is certainly necessary, in my opinion.    



At 4:11 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said:

In how many ways does it have to be proved that tax cuts don't work? Under Bush they've made the rich risher (the the oil companies swimming in record profits). That whole "it's your money" argument is so bogus too. Paying taxes is a contract we make w/the government to provide programs and services, maintain the infrastructure, pay for defense, etc. The consequences of tax-cut mania could be seen in the wake of Katrina.    



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