The first federal tax return in 1931 only required a single page.
What’s important to a country? The best way to tell is through its tax code.
This is Trahant Reports.
There is no better way for any legislature — be it a tribal council, a state assembly, or a Congress — to telegraph what’s most important to a society than through its tax policy. How a government collects revenue says what constituent groups are seen to matter. And, conversely, what groups and issues are insignificant.
That of course, is Indian Country. Tribes are not treated the same as cities or states when it comes to federal tax policy.
For example: There is a tax credit for adoption — but it does not apply when a tribal court adjudicates the case.
So Indian Country is a perfect illustration of my larger point: A country’s tax policy shows what it values. The key to this idea is simple when a nation wants more of something, then taxes it less. And, other hand, if a nation wants less of something? Tax it more.
The tax reform bills in the House and Senate say a lot about the power of corporations and the value of inherited wealth. Tax less, get more.
Both of these bills will sharply reduce federal spending. Last week the National Congress of American Indians and the Native American Finance Officers Association came out against the bills. A news release said: “With respect to tribal nations, unless tribal provisions are included, the current tax reform legislation amounts to little more than a $1.5 trillion increase in the federal deficit over the next ten years. This deficit increase will inevitably create pressure to cut federal programs and services that are extremely important to tribal communities.”
The House tax bill is also an all-out attack on higher education. This is nonsense. Especially when the country needs to be competitive in a digital, knowledge-based world.
The House would eliminate the deduction of interest for student loans. Americans now owe more than $1.4 trillion on student loans. So instead of solving a problem, Congress is making it worse.
The House bill would also classify tuition waivers as income, making a graduate student wealthy for tax purposes. This will make it more difficult for people to pay for graduate school, and increase the debt levels for those who do. As a national policy this makes no sense.
And for Indian Country? There is already a shortage of graduate students and PhDs. Why should we make it more difficult?
And in the debate about values there is a powerful metaphor: College does not matter.
The House has already passed its version and the The Senate will vote on tax reform in early December. Republican leaders hope to pass the legislation before the end of this year.
I am Mark Trahant.