OXFORD — Billionaire presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg and Mississippi policymakers are poles apart philosophically, but they have one thing in common.
They don’t mind taxing the poor, although it is for different reasons.
Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of a global financial services, software and media company and a former mayor of New York City, favors taxing the poor to alter their behavior.
Place a high tax on sugary soft drinks, for example, and discourage the consumption of them to prevent obesity.
In a 2018 interview, which is being recirculated now that he has entered the presidential race, Bloomberg said: “Some people say, well, taxes are regressive. But in this case, yes they are. That’s the good thing about them because the problem is in people that don’t have a lot of money. And so, higher taxes should have a bigger impact on their behavior and how they deal with themselves. So, I listen to people saying ‘oh we don’t want to tax the poor.’ Well, we want the poor to live longer so that they can get an education and enjoy life. And that’s why you do want to do exactly what a lot of people say you don’t want to do.”
Don’t worry sugar lovers. Bloomberg, who was in Mississippi this week, isn’t likely to capture a party’s nomination where most of the candidates are in favor of hammering rich folks like him with higher taxes to give more to the have-nots. Taxing the rich is a lot more popular in Democratic circles than taxing the poor and the middle class for whatever reason.
In addition to his taxing philosophy, Bloomberg is late getting into the fray, and he has at various times been a Democrat, then a Republican, then an independent and now a Democrat again.
In Mississippi, where winning state politicians boast they are against “raising anybody’s taxes,” a main staple of the tax structure is the sales tax, which applies to groceries as well as prepared food, sugar or no sugar.
This has to hit low-income families harder as a percentage of income than it does the rich.
But no one seems to get overly excited about it. Democrat Jim Hood, in his recent campaign for governor, proposed eliminating or reducing the sales tax on groceries, but it didn’t get him elected.
Now we have what amounts to a new tax called the Mississippi lottery.
Sure, it’s a voluntary tax and no one has to participate, but plenty of people, including those who can’t afford it, will.
To be fair, the majority wanted the lottery, and Mississippians were driving to other states to buy lottery tickets.
So establishing one in Mississippi makes sense, although I doubt it’s going to be the financial panacea for the state some politicians are hoping it will be.
Many people, myself included, believe this voluntary tax will fall heavier on poor people hoping to get rich than on those, rich and poor, who recognize that the odds of hitting a multi-million-dollar jackpot are somewhere in the range of Bloomberg being elected president and putting sugary drink makers out of business.
On second thought, Bloomberg’s odds of getting elected probably are better than your chances of getting rich on the lottery.
This time four years ago, I didn’t think another New Yorker — he now claims Florida as his legal residence —had much chance of being elected president, but I was wrong.
Whenever the subject of taxing the poor is raised, I am reminded of the late Southern philosopher and comedian “Brother Dave” Gardner’s recipe for bringing folks out of poverty. “Tax ‘em,” Brother Dave would preach. “Give ‘em an incentive not to be poor.”
In Mississippi there are plenty of incentives not to be poor, but they don’t seem to be working.
At least we still have sugary drinks.
• Charles M. Dunagin is the retired editor and publisher of the Enterprise-Journal in McComb. He lives in Oxford.