I fail to understand why National Review deems a proposal to eliminate the federal tax exemption for state and local taxes paid a “welcome” reform (The Week, March 24). The exemption attempts to achieve some degree of parity between residents of high-tax and low- or no-tax states. Perhaps I’m missing something, but these goals seem in tune with conservative principles. For New Yorkers like me, eliminating that exemption would mean a fairly hefty increase in their yearly tax bill. And moving to another state is not always an option: Tearing up one’s roots in a locale chosen for family or work reasons may be neither possible nor desirable. NR’s editors seem to think the federal government should, in effect, stick it to those who suffer under burdensome state and local taxes. Frankly, I’m surprised.
The Editors respond: Far from promoting parity among the states, the deduction for state and local taxes rewards and enables high-tax states. A revenue-neutral tax reform that eliminated the deduction would allow low-tax states to reap more of the benefits of their relatively healthy political cultures. People who are stuck in high-tax states might benefit, too, because their governments would have to worry more about driving taxpayers away.
In Government We Don’t Trust
I would have wholeheartedly agreed with Arthur Herman and John Yoo’s article “A Defense of Bulk Surveillance” (April 7) prior to 2008. I spent 30 years as an attorney inside the federal bureaucracy and was proud of the high ethical standards expected of federal employees. Now, witnessing how easily the power of the federal government has been turned to reward political friends and punish enemies, I no longer agree. Lois Lerner gives a green light to bureaucrats to do as they wish. It is stunning — not only the corruption of power but how the whole world stands aside and watches with barely a whimper. Terrorists are a threat, but so is unrestrained government. The latter has killed many more than the former. Interestingly, I attended a seminar about balancing public safety with individual rights and found myself agreeing with an ACLU attorney, not something I usually do. He said: “It all comes down to whether you trust the people with the information.” I used to trust the federal government with information; I don’t any longer.
Arthur Herman and John Yoo respond: We share the writer’s concern about the abuse of government power by the IRS, which smacks of Watergate-era scandals in which taxing authorities were used to pursue the political enemies of the White House. There is always the threat of tyranny from the concentration of power. But we think that the Framers, who understood this problem well, chose one system for domestic affairs and another for foreign. With domestic affairs, the Framers infused the Constitution with several checks and balances and limits on government power because domestic affairs allow time to consider legislation and the states stand by to handle social problems. With foreign affairs, the Framers gave the benefit of the doubt to government action that could be swift and decisive. Even though they understood that the chances of tyranny were higher, they believed that only an executive could act with speed and unity of purpose to stop threats to our national security in which the costs of delay might be very high and there would be no alternatives, such as the states, to protect the American people. It’s also worth noting that not even Edward Snowden has found an example of any NSA employee’s abusing his or her power the way Lois Lerner and her colleagues apparently have done at the IRS.