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COLUMN

If you're going to put your hand in my pocket, at least ask first

Only the gutless justify hidden tax increases in the name of 'social justice'

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 12:01 am

It was surely a sign of the times that last Wednesday's News-Sentinel contained two examples – one local, the other national – of mindless, gutless government at its worst.

The fact that each is likely to be hailed as a victory for “social justice” only increases the threat they represent.

Say what you will about tax-and-spend politicians, but at least they have the courage to accept the credit or blame for advocating a policy that will be correctly viewed as both coercive and confiscatory. But there was absolutely nothing courageous about President Obama's demand for a massive increase in the federal minimum wage or a Fort Wayne Community Schools committee's decision to impose an artificially high wage scale on $24.7 million in renovation projects, most of them funded through the $119 million tax increase voters approved last year.

In each case, government officials simply decided their constituents should benefit at somebody else's expense – but did so in a way that absolved them of blame for advocating higher taxes.

“Working folks shouldn't have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher,” our Robin-Hood president told Congress in his annual State of the Union address. And so he wants the minimum wage – which has not changed since 2009 -- increased from $7.25 to $9 an hour by the end of 2015, with cost-of-living adjustments thereafter.

Well, who wouldn't want a guaranteed raise of more than 20 percent, with permanent protection against inflation? I certainly would. You, too, probably. But that's not how it works in the real world.

As even our economically illiterate president surely knows, salaries generally reflect the market value of an individual's talent, ambition, experience and performance. People who do the best jobs or are willing to move in pursuit of higher wages are usually rewarded accordingly. The opposite is also true, meaning that the minimum wage need not increase in order to ensure upward mobility. The wage is intended as an entry point to the job market, not the ultimate destination or the means by which to raise a family.

Most of us know, of course, that raises are scarce in a weak economy. But that only makes Obama's proposal all the more cynical. Does the president really believe that employers who cannot afford raises now will simply absorb the costs his plan represents? On the contrary, they will pass the cost on to consumers, further weakening consumer demand. What's more, companies would be less likely to hire low-skilled employees in the first place – especially when the burden of a higher minimum wage is compounded by the costs imposed by Obamacare.

But in a country increasingly unable or unwilling to look beyond the quick economic or political fix, it's the stated intent that counts, not the result. In fact, much of our political class today vilifies and impedes the very wealth and prosperity that could be creating the jobs that would force employers to improve pay in order to compete for workers. The result will be more government dependence and expense, not less.

The FWCS case is perhaps even more cynical, because the decision made by its common wage committee last week was intended to benefit special interests earning far more than minimum wage at the expense of students and property owners who may or may not be quite so affluent.

Having convinced voters that FWCS buildings were in dire need of repair, school officials had the moral obligation to spend that $119 million in a way that would produce as many tangible benefits for students as possible. Unfortunately, the committee decided to benefit unions instead.

As I reported Wednesday, the state's insane common wage law requires school district and most other government units to establish minimum construction wages for projects costing more than $350,000. By the 3-2 vote, the committee agreed to adopt wages proposed by the AFL-CIO over wages the non-union Associated Builders and Contractors claimed could have saved taxpayers between 15 percent and 30 percent, possibly boosting costs by millions of dollars.

One committee member justified his vote as protecting working people from exploitation; another said she suspected non-union contractors would simply have pocketed the difference instead of lowering their bids. But both showed an appalling disregard for students and taxpayers, who as it turns out were duped into supporting not a plan to upgrade schools but a welfare scheme for unions.

Both plans represent hidden tax increases, and it would be nice if the people benefitting from them would at least have the courage and decency to admit it. Not that millions of clueless Americans who applaud the mirage of government-imposed “fairness” would notice, or even care.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com, or call him at 461-8355.