Two big-dollar deals took place on the same day recently — one of them high-profile, the other low-profile to anyone whose last name isn’t Sloan.
These two seemingly unrelated items are, in fact, related — in an unusual and unfortunate way.
Let me explain.
The well-known deal was the announcement that President Trump was handing over about $12 billion of taxpayer money (without a congressional vote) to farmers affected by the tariffs that he imposed (without a congressional vote) on supposed “national security” grounds.
The low-profile item was me paying my quarterly real estate tax bill for my home in New Jersey. It’s the first time in the 45 years that my wife and I have been homeowners that we have paid real estate tax knowing that it would not be deductible from our federally taxable income.
What connection is there between taxpayers paying farmers and a couple making non-federally deductible real estate tax payments?
That’s where divisiveness comes in.
There was joy in large parts of the land when the Trumpublican Tax Bill of 2017 (which wasn’t tax reform) limited deductions for state and local taxes to $10,000 a year.
That limit was an intentional attack aimed at hurting high-tax, high-cost states like New York, California and New Jersey that, not coincidentally, tend to vote Democratic. I consider it an act of war against my state.
When I wrote about the unfairness of this — in my town, $10,000 is barely half the average real estate tax — I got lots of nasty reactions about how wrong it has been for taxpayers in other states to bear the cost of the federal tax deductions that we Garden State types were getting.
(The Rockefeller Institute of Government says that New Jersey ranks last in the country when it comes to how much money we get back from Uncle Sam compared with what we send. But why let facts get in the way of opinions?)
Now, however, those of us targeted by the Trumpublican bill are supposed to stand by quietly while Trump gives $12 billion of our money to farmers affected by his policies. People who — not coincidentally — tend to live in areas that were pro-Trump in 2016.
But while Trump can find $12 billion for farmers, he and his fellow travelers are unwilling to find anything like $12 billion to fund Uncle Sam’s piece of the badly needed New York-New Jersey Gateway rail project designed to keep Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the whole Boston-Washington rail corridor from suffering a catastrophic collapse.
Should a key part of the system fail — a distinct possibility, if Gateway doesn’t get built — it would greatly damage the economy of the Northeast, which is a key part of the national economy. By the way, when it comes to comparing what they send to Washington with what comes back, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts are the four biggest losers. Helping us pay for Gateway would help us keep helping the rest of the country.
(New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, like me, is linking farmer handouts with the lack of Gateway funding. But I didn’t see the Democrat’s remarks until after I had written this column.)
I’m telling you this so you can see why although I generally have a lot of respect for people who do physical labor, I’ve got lots less sympathy for financially damaged farmers and blue-collar workers in pro-Trump areas than I would normally have.
If farmers support politicians who don’t want to help pay for mass transit infrastructure in my part of the country, it’s hard to see why I should pay for the damage farmers have suffered because the guy they helped elect has caused them problems that they could have protected themselves against.
Farmers could have sold their crops forward; they could have hedged in the futures market; they could have done any number of things. But they didn’t. And now, they’re lining up for a handout.
Pre-Trump, I would have been happy to help make them whole. (Though pre-Trump, they wouldn’t need help.) Now, I would like to get something in return for helping them.
If politicians from Trump enclaves decide to help fund the Gateway project that is vital to my part of the country (and to the country as a whole) and let me start deducting real estate and state income taxes again, I’ll be happy about helping farmers and blue-collar people in Trumpland.
I would much rather be part of a unified country than a member of a warring faction. I hope you feel this way, too.