Free Ride

Many corporations get tax breaks at the expense of individual taxpayers.

From a nation with an early history of numerous tax rebellions, we have become shamefully lax over what could be the biggest tax rip-off ever: corporate welfare.

Each year, federal and state governments give away billions of taxpayer dollars either in direct subsidies or through loopholes that keep corporate coffers fat. This giveaway continues unabated, despite the fact that a majority of states, including Arizona, are experiencing severe budget constraints forcing them to face cuts in essential programs.

Approximately 50 years ago, taxes were "roughly split" between corporations and individuals, states a Boston Globe series on corporate welfare. Changes in the federal tax code in subsequent years had a significant impact on that parity. By 1996, corporations were paying 20 percent and individuals 80 percent, according to the United States Office of Management and Budget. This disparity has likely grown in recent years as businesses find ever more clever ways to manipulate figures to their benefit. Need I say "Enron"?

While Arizona has yet to sink to the level of Texas in corporate scandal, we remain the beneficiaries of former Gov. Fife Symington's fraud-fraught fiefdom. At approximately 2 a.m., in the last hours of the 1994 legislative session, a tax break for the state's racing industry was passed, without debate, by the blurry-eyed members of the Legislature--and despite little support for earlier versions of a racing bill.

As a result of this concession to a failing industry, Tucson Greyhound Park last paid state taxes in fiscal year 1995-96 in the amount of $55,284. After 1996, TGP paid no state taxes at all, despite gross revenues of more than $28 million, according to figures compiled from the Arizona Department of Racing Annual Reports and reported by Greyhound Network News.

What this means is that the taxpayers of Arizona are not only providing a free ride for the owners of TGP, as well as the Phoenix racing parks, but also subsidizing an industry with documented instances of animal abuse.

The life of a racing greyhound is a sobering commentary on the racing industry's willingness to sacrifice an animal's life in the pursuit of profits. The rotting corpses of 143 greyhounds were found in an abandoned orchard southeast of Phoenix in 1992, reports Joan Eidinger in her The Animals' Agenda article, "Nowhere to Run." The dogs had been shot in the head and, in order to prevent identification, their tattooed left ears were cut off. This example is just one of many.

Breeders for the greyhound racing industry see their dogs as products. As with any commodity coming off the assembly line, faulty ones never make it to market. Greyhound puppies considered ill-suited for racing are routinely destroyed. Dogs retired from racing face the same fate: There are far more dogs produced than are adopted.

Young dogs who "make the grade" are sent to training farms before being sent to commercial tracks. Some don't even get that far: Transported by trucks under often harsh conditions, many arrive ill or dead.

Animal-rights activists have long viewed greyhound racing as an abusive and anachronistic "sport." But whether you share their concerns, the fact is, taxpayer dollars are being used to prop up a moribund industry with no redeeming features other than a handful of low-paying, part-time jobs.

In order to bring this issue to public attention, local activists are planning a demonstration Thursday afternoon, June 26, at TGP. "At a time of state fiscal crisis, when assistance programs for Arizona's children and low-income families are threatened, why are the dog and horse racing industries getting a free ride? Why are they not required to pay their fair share of taxes?" asks Gary Vella, coordinator of the Tucson chapter of the Animal Defense League of Arizona. "We are urging every Arizona taxpayer to contact their legislator in regard to this question."

Corporate welfare raises dozens of questions. Perhaps at the top of the list is why more Americans are not outraged enough to make their voices heard. A measure that would provide billions of taxpayer dollars to the nuclear power industry was endorsed last week by the U.S. Senate. The measure permits the government to provide loan guarantees for at least a half-dozen new nuclear power plants, with each expected to cost about $3 billion.

Taxpayers for Common Sense, a tax issues advocacy group, estimates the measure would total $3.7 billion over five years in additional government support for the industry, even without the loan guarantees, the Associated Press reports. The group called the bill "one of the largest corporate welfare handouts in our nation's history." Whether this is hyperbole, the facts speak for themselves.

In 1996, the $150 billion in corporate subsides and tax benefits was greater than the then budget deficit of $130 billion, according to the Boston Globe. More money was siphoned to corporations than was allocated to key social welfare programs. And you can bet your last taxed dollar that the disparity has grown.

The Big Lie is that we live in a free-market economy. A real free-market economy has never existed, not in this country nor in any other, except on the pages of college textbooks. Central governments, regardless of their political configuration, have always pandered to and depended on the wealthy. Unfortunately for the rest of us, we have allowed ourselves to be cowed, conditioned and controlled by a corrupt system of greed and mendacity our taxes support.

The good news is government and corporate misdeeds have become so flagrant that the right and the left are increasingly finding common ground. Given our nation's history, this would be a good time to seize the day, come together and seek a redress of our most serious grievances.