Perhaps no issue better illustrates the philosophical divide between left-wing Democrats and right-wing Republicans than the Earned Income Tax Credit.Â Here in Iowa a theatrical stunt a few weeks back by ultra-Liberal Iowa City Democrat Senator Joe Bolkcom put the issue front and center.Â In the hopes of pressuring Governor Branstad to support a huge increase in the Iowa Earned Income Tax Credit, Pleasantville resident Julie Heck was brought in to symbolize the need for this action by taking part in a press conference before then testifying in front of the Ways and Means Committee.Â Ms. Heck is a single mother of three who is currently receiving the Iowa Earned Income Tax credit, and on this day set about making the case that while she is glad to have itâ€”it sure would be nice to get more of our money.
While Democrats were no doubt tickled by both the media exposure and the perceived effectiveness of this spectacle, the realities surrounding her specific situation, including her own stunning words, expose the utter disregard that liberal Democrats have for all Iowa taxpayers.
The Press Conference
In the press conference Ms. Heck says that she is a single mother of three who works full time and attends college full time at Simpson.Â She made $33,000 in income last year.Â Beyond not paying a penny in Federal income tax, she instead receivedÂ a $5,279 check from the Federal government which combined $2,279 from the Federal E.I.T.C and another $3,000 from the Federal Child Tax Credit.Â Receiving the Federal E.I.T.CÂ in turn qualified her to receive an additional $160 from the Iowa E.I.T.C.Â Without getting into all the numbers, after using a portion of her Federal refund to pay the $410 she owed to the state of Iowa, she ended up not only with a zero dollar income tax burden, but instead was actually paid $4,869 by the government.
While so much is wrong with this picture, two things are particularly disturbing.Â Firstly, instead of being grateful to live in a system that allows her to receive a net profit of $4,869 from the income tax code, she actually had the audacity to sit in front of a microphone and decry the fact that she had to pay any Iowa income taxes at all.Â And, remarkably unsatisfied with what she has already received, she wants even more moneyâ€”it is just unbelievable.
Perhaps the biggest slap in the face here is what she admits to spending some of this refund money on.Â At the 3 minute mark of the video posted above, she plainly states that she is using her Federal â€œrefundâ€ money to help pay for her college tuition, and then proceeds to say that some of this money also goes to match the funds her children manage to save throughout the year.
As a taxpayer who over the last two years alone has sent tens of thousands of dollars to the Federal government and several thousand more to the state of Iowa, I find these details outrageous.Â Let me be clear, I have no problem paying taxes to help those who are destitute, starving, or un-sheltered.Â However, paying for a mother of three who decides that she now wants to attend college full time is a far different matter.
Once any American citizen makes the decision to bring three human lives into the world it is solely their own responsibility to provide for those children by any means necessary.Â Â In this case it clearly means working a second job to provide for her family instead of spendingÂ our tax dollarsÂ to attend college.Â I ask you this, how many hundreds of thousands of Iowans, especially small business owners, send their money into the government each year and afterwards do not have enough left over to afford schooling, or to match their childrenâ€™s savings?
The Politics and Implications
Finally we have Sen. Bolkcom, the Iowa personification of this entitlement mentality, and the political and financial implications of this situation.Â After Ms. Heckâ€™s statementÂ Sen. Bolkcom threatens (at the 7:20 mark) that until the â€œearnedâ€ income tax credit is brought up from its current 7% to either 13% or 20%, that in his mind all tax relief for Iowans is off the table.Â Realize here what this man is actually saying.Â That before he entertains any legislation to cut the taxes of Iowans who have been throttled by actually paying high taxes for yearsâ€”Ms. Heck must first receive an even larger refund.
This attitude and approach are stunning.Â Putting on display a woman who makes $33,000 a year, who attends college fulltime, and already receives nearly $5,000 in government money through the tax code to justify almost tripling the Iowa E.I.T.C is beyond insulting.Â This clearly shows all taxpayers in IowaÂ what little respect some have for the contributions we are making to government coffers every year.
Republicans agreed multiple times last year to increase the percentage of the Iowa E.I.T.C, largely as part of a legislative give and take they hoped would result in other tax proposals gaining passage, but the governor twice vetoed the section raising the credit.Â In explanation heÂ cited his desire to instead include it in a much larger tax reform bill, though the SenateÂ again last month passed it as a stand alone measure (SF 2161).Â The price tag of raising the credit to 20% would cost Iowa taxpayers $49.9 millionÂ every year after it fully phased-in in 2016.Â This is no doubt a number that seems tiny to Democrats, but is a big deal when you consider that Chief Justice Cady is likely to again be denied an additional $10 million in funding for our judicial system, which has been underfunded for decades.
Once again I stress that the root of my problem here is not so much the issue itself or the price tag of passing the increase.Â Above all else, this specific example exposes how we are losing the spirit of defiant self-sufficiency that we once hadâ€”and how quickly it is getting replaced with an attitude that instead asks â€˜what more can you do for me?â€™Â What is so galling about this is not that the government would offer assistance to people in serious need (they certainly should), but rather how that need is now defined.
While this entire production was likely staged with the sole purpose of raising the guilt level and putting public pressure on Governor Branstad to accept the increase, in reality what it raises is a much larger question:
Has the mentality throughout our state become so collectivist in nature that hard working Iowans are going to be viewed as â€œheartlessâ€ for not wanting to payÂ adults to go to college and be able to match their childrenâ€™s piggy bank contributions?
If the answer is yes than Conservatives and Libertarians have a lot more work to doâ€¦and Iowans will have a lot more taxes to pay in the future.
March 19th marked an unusual anniversary for me.
Eighteen years ago on that very day, I drank my last drop of alcohol.
Yes, itâ€™s true.Â I am a tee-totaller.Â But before you declare me intolerant of those who drink, please hear my full story and how I came to the conviction of no longer drinking.
I never was a big drinker.Â I really didnâ€™t like to put any substances in my body which would have inhibited my intellect or athletic abilities.Â I never tried any illegal drugs, and I especially abstained from alcohol when I was playing football.Â (I played high school and college ball.)
However, in the off-season, even when it was not legal for me to do so, I would drink a beer or two.Â Gin and tonics were my drink of choice in college.Â As an adult, I acquired a taste for cheap champagne.Â When I got married, I learned about the refreshing taste of Long Island Iced Tea, a mixed drink with five different shots of alcohol.Â I â€œcelebratedâ€ my successful defense of my doctoral thesis by drinking two of these concoctions, but I donâ€™t remember much of the â€œcelebration.â€
Still, I was not given to drunkenness very often when I was still drinking alcohol.Â There were periodic lapses in judgment, in that regard, but I generally maintained my self-discipline.
I maintained such self-discipline, that is, until Friday, March 19, 1993.
On that night, spring break began at Urbandale High School, where I served as Principal.Â Since, in my own mind, I had so much catch-up work from the first three academic quarters of the school year, I stayed behind in Iowa, while my wife Cheryl and daughter Molly ventured to Nashville for time with family.Â So I had the entire week before me to work in the office.Â (My addiction to work is the topic for an entirely different commentary.)
But I â€œgave myself permissionâ€ to do some more â€œcelebratingâ€ before the work began.Â On the first Friday of spring break â€“ March 19th â€“ I accompanied some of my friends to a nearby restaurant.Â At no time did I consume any food of substance besides chips and salsa, but I did fill my stomach with marguerita after marguerita.Â The drinks were flowing freely for me and for my friends.Â Alcohol relaxed the â€œgovernorâ€ of my brain, so I lost inhibition, and I believe I can safely recall cacophonous laughter among my peers.
Good sense lost out that night.Â My brain also should have â€œtold meâ€ not to drive after I had drunk so much.Â But drive I did.Â I do not recall very much about the trip from that restaurant several miles across town to a friendâ€™s house for a continuation of our escapades.Â Once again, I showed poor judgment by continuing to drink and by mixing my drinks.Â I donâ€™t even know what I was drinking, but I believe there were some â€œexperimental mixturesâ€ of ingredients.Â Still, I had not eaten dinner.
At some point, I must have tired and indicated to the rest of my literal party that I should drive home, which was just a few blocks away.Â Again, I donâ€™t recall the trip at all.Â But I made the drive home safely, stumbled into bed (perhaps with all of my clothes on), and settled-in for what I thought would be an uneventful night.
The night was not uneventful.Â At some time in the early morning hours, I awoke with a start.Â There was a knifing pain in my stomach.Â I tried to roll over and ignore the sharp twisting of my gut, but to no avail.Â My mind was still in the throes of alcohol- and sleep-induced stupor, but I could tell that something was very wrong with me.Â I figured I could get up and â€œwalk offâ€ this physical infirmity.Â So I ventured to the kitchen.Â I looked out the window over my kitchen sink into the still, dark night.Â I hunched over the sink.Â And, then, I experienced something I hope to never again experience in my life.
The dry heaves hit me.Â Perhaps you know this feeling yourself.Â I hope not.Â In my 52+ years on this earth, I have only experienced dry heaves this one time.Â I will spare you the gory details, because this is not a pleasant experience at all.Â I hate being sick.Â And I hate being sick with the flu â€“ when a person IS able to empty the contents of his stomach and at least find some relief from the pain.
The dry heaves allow for no relief.Â Nothing comes up, except a gagging reflex which causes the entire body to shudder with pain.Â The worst of the night was probably only a few minutes in length, but the pain played tricks with my mind, and I suffered through one of the most horrible maladies of my life.
Of course, I wanted sympathy from my lovely bride after I awoke and recounted the ill effects of my evening to her by telephone the next day.Â I rightly got no sympathy.Â I had brought the horrible experience upon myself, and I had suffered the natural and logical consequences of my poor decision-making.
Worse that that â€“ when I did return to my right mind â€“ I thought about some other outcomes which could have â€“ but by the grace of God â€“ did not occur.Â During both of my drives in a drunken state, I could have easily been picked up by police officers for operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.Â High school principals who get arrested for such offenses generally get fired, and they do not find better jobs.Â Worse that that, I could have wrecked my car and killed myself or someone else.
I played all of those scenarios out in my mind, and I, quite frankly, shuddered in fear.
So I made a vow to myself on that night that I would never take another drop of alcohol, and, incredibly, I have honored that vow for 18 years now.
Do I believe ALL people should give up drinking alcohol?Â No, absolutely not.Â My Bible commands me, â€œDo not get drunk on wine.â€Â The Bible does not tell me, â€œDo not drink wine.â€Â My conviction, after a VERY dramatic experience, is to not drink alcohol.Â Another person can have a much different conviction.
Still, I should be clear about drunkenness.Â I abhor and I am appalled by the practice, which is rampant in the world.Â I am amazed when I read about people who get picked up for multiple drunk driving offenses, and we all know in our hearts that they are driving MANY, MANY other times while under the influence of alcohol.Â Why canâ€™t they stop their drunkenness and drunk driving?Â Donâ€™t they care about their own safety and the safety of others on the road?Â I understand the power of addiction, but such is no excuse for endangering others.
I made that very point once in front of a large audience when I was very openly sharing the experience I had on March 19, 1993 and my subsequent decision not to drink.Â I was working very hard not to sound judgmental.Â I wanted others to learn from my example.Â No dramatic testimony should go unwasted, if the story can help even one person in an audience.Â But I was roundly criticized for my words and for using the bully pulpit of my leadership for this purpose.Â I heard second-hand that someone went so far as to say that I was â€œacting holier than thou.â€Â (I understood that these words were probably borne of conviction, but they were no less stinging in their effect.)
Whatâ€™s my point?Â Measure the cost.Â In the case of this extremely important decision, determine for yourself whether drinking in excess is worth the most negative outcomes.Â Decide whether drinking and driving is really in your best interests or the interests of others.Â I am not asking any adult of legal age to follow my example, because each of us must live our own lives.
From my faith persuasion as a born again Christian, I am accountable to God for my decisions.Â I will do everything in my power (and, hopefully, under His supernatural power) to honor and glorify Him.Â Such is the acid test for me.Â Will my thoughts, words, and actions honor and glorify God?Â I must be willing to answer this question in the affirmative.
Abuse of alcohol has become a menace to individuals, marriages, organizations, neighborhoods, and whole communities.Â But alcohol is not the problem in and of itself.Â Our own sin and poor decision-making is the problem.Â Alcohol only exacerbates the problems â€“ leading to a greater incidence of sexual promiscuity, divorce, crime, parental estrangement from children, financial ruin, lost work time, and loss of human life.
Any adult of legal age has the right to drink alcohol.Â But he also has the responsibility to drink wisely.Â I did not drink wisely on March 19, 1993, and, now, I choose differently â€“ to resist a temptation which could have had far-reaching effect on my own life and the lives of others.Â Every person must make a decision for himself.Â Every person should come to her own conviction.Â All of us must exercise our wills to rid our culture of a scourge which will seemingly not go away anytime soon.Â Will you?