New Taxes Lurking
By Stewart Truelsen
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt committed an unpardonable political sin in an election year when he publicly announced support for a new tax on outdoor equipment. Secretary Babbitt soon found himself in rough water without a paddle. President Clinton cut the secretary adrift on that idea, saying it wasn't in the president's plans.
Democratic campaign leaders were reportedly fuming over Babbitt's gaffe, and rumors were revived about a replacement for Babbitt in a second Clinton term. Bob Dole had fun with the new federal tax. Dole said, "You won't even be able to escape the IRS while you are hiking. They will suddenly be walking along with you."
Taxpayers can laugh now at the thought of a ridiculous new tax. It's an election year and both presidential candidates and all the candidates down the line are talking about tax cuts, not tax increases. Talk of a tax increase would be taboo in an election year, except for Secretary Babbitt, of course. But he doesn't stand for election.
Next year or the year after may be a different story. Remember the Btu tax in 1993? President Clinton proposed a big new energy tax, but was forced to abandon the idea. Both Democrats and Republicans in office have been guilty of proposing new taxes after an election, or reneging on promises not to raise taxes.
Are there new taxes lurking around the corner of the 1996 election? Of course there are, and Babbitt may be on to something. Environmental taxes could be the tax of choice.
Writing in "The Futurist" magazine, Lester R. Brown, president of Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C., talks about taxing activities that use the environment to help steer the economy in what he calls "an environmentally sustainable direction." Brown also favors limiting tax deductions for families with more than two children, and he wants to revive the idea of a big new tax on fossil fuels.
A few months ago, a California task force proposed a new tax or user fee on motorists. It was labeled "congestion pricing" because it would be imposed on motorists who drive freeways during rush hours.
There are plenty of ideas to raise taxes or impose new taxes, but they are on the back burner until next year. Don't be lulled to sleep on taxes by election year talk. Be prepared to hold candidates to their promises of cutting taxes. And give some thought to purchasing any outdoor equipment you need – this year.
Stewart Truelsen is director of broadcast services for the American Farm Bureau Federation.