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Commentary: ‘Axes to Taxes’ threatens to chop children

The national “Axes to Taxes Tour” arrived in Utah Saturday with a luncheon event in Midvale featuring Sen. Mike Lee. Many of the goals and ideals of the tour and its sponsors are laudable — broaden the tax base, lower tax rates, simplify the tax code. But the tour has one goal that raises significant concerns for its potential impact on Utah’s children (and all of us): the goal of cutting public budgets so as to finance tax cuts.

While no one loves paying taxes, and while it’s easy to skewer “big government” in the abstract, multibillion dollar public budget cuts can harm millions of real people — and the nation as a whole — in specific and substantial ways.

For example, earlier this year President Trump proposed federal budget cuts that would reduce total federal funding to Utah by $118 million in the very first year, and by much more in the future. The impact would be devastating in many areas:

  • Medicaid: President Trump’s budget proposes to cut $610 billion (over 20 percent) over 10 years from Medicaid, which insures 200,000 children here in Utah.

  • CHIP: Under the Trump budget, the highly effective and popular Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is hit with a $5.8 billion or 21 percent cut.

  • SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps, faces a cut of $193 billion or 25 percent over 10 years. And states will be required to make up $116 billion of that cut under a new 25 percent state match requirement — a new $75 million annual burden on Utah state government. Even worse, the proposal would disproportionately harm Utah, because it caps benefits at a household size of six, and we have the nation’s greatest share of large families.

  • Utahns with disabilities: President Trump wants to cut disability programs by $72 billion over the next decade.

  • Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): The single largest immediate hit in the first year is the elimination of the entirety of Utah’s $24 million federal LIHEAP grant.

  • Child Tax Credit: President Trump’s proposed cuts to the CTC total $3 billion annually. Millions of children, including tens of thousands in Utah, all of them U.S. citizens, would lose this important support — and for nearly half of them, losing the CTC means pushing them into or deeper into poverty.

  • Housing: The President’s proposed budget cuts include:

  • Eliminating Housing Choice Vouchers for 250,000 poor families, including 1,290 here in Utah, most of them low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and working families with children.

  • Reducing public housing funding by $1.8 billion, or nearly 29 percent, compared to 2017, on top of the 21% cut that took place from 2010 to 2016. Here in Utah, this amounts to a $1.8 million budget cut each year.

  • Cutting $133 million from homeless assistance grants — just when Utah is beginning to take serious action to address our homelessness crisis.

  • Eliminating entirely the Community Development Block Grant, HOME, and Choice Neighborhoods programs that bring Utah $26 million annually in flexible aid to poor rural and urban communities for revitalization investments and affordable housing.

Last month the US House of Representatives Budget Committee passed its own FY2018 federal budget plan incorporating many of these harmful proposals and even making some worse:

  • Cutting SNAP by 40 percent within a decade.

  • Cutting school lunch programs.

  • Cutting Pell Grants by $75 billion and student loans by $120 billion over 10 years, making it more difficult for young people to attend college, thereby limiting their future prospects and the productivity of our entire economy.

Real tax reform is needed, but it should not be on the backs of our most vulnerable neighbors. Unfortunately, the House Budget Committee plan ignores what should be one of the largest sources for deficit reduction: tax expenditures. These are the more than $1 trillion a year in deductions, credits and other preferences that former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan called “tax entitlements” and President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Martin Feldstein said are the best target for cutting wasteful government spending. Tax expenditures tilt heavily toward the affluent, with half of their benefits going to the top fifth of households.

It’s easy to talk in the abstract about wanting to reduce taxes and “cut government down to size.” But the proposals from President Trump and the House Budget Committee would worsen poverty and make it harder for millions of working Americans to climb the economic ladder and make a better life for themselves and their children. Moreover, by slashing proven, time-tested investments in America’s children, these plans would undermine our nation’s future growth and prosperity.

Matthew Weinstein is state priorities partnership director for Voices for Utah Children.

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