Sunday, April 22, 2018
Politics

In a pro-Trump area, many are skeptical of GOP tax plan

STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. - On a busy weeknight at the 5 Star Lanes bowling alley in this Detroit suburb that voted heavily for President Donald Trump, there was little excitement about the Republican plan to cut taxes.

A 60-year-old retiree bowling with a group of girlfriends said she’s tired of the middle class having to pay more so the wealthy can become even wealthier. A few lanes away, a middle-aged woman with frizzy gray hair said that the more she hears about the plan, the more she hates it. And a group of young guys in matching shirts said they didn’t even know the proposal was in the works, although they seemed skeptical that their taxes would ever go down in a meaningful way.

Ron Stephens, a 49-year-old Republican who works in purchasing for the auto industry and wrote in Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for president, said he doesn’t expect to benefit under the proposal. Any gains he might make thanks to a tax cut would probably be washed out by changes to other deductions that he usually takes, he said. And don’t get him started on cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, as the Senate bill passed early Saturday does.

"Why are you going to lower their taxes?" Stephens said, naming some wealthy auto-titan families as examples as he waited for his turn to bowl Wednesday night. "The level of lifestyle that they have versus everyone else - why do they need that? It’s not that big of an impact for them, but for someone making $30,000 a year? That would have a huge impact on them."

Here in the Detroit suburbs and across the country, many voters say they view the Republican tax plan as simply a giveaway for the rich that will benefit only a small number of people in the long run. Trump and prominent members of his party promise that the cuts will spur economic growth - leading to more jobs and better pay - but many voters say they are skeptical that will actually happen.

Polls consistently show that more Americans oppose the tax plan than support it - including, most recently, a Quinnipiac survey in November that showed that for every two people who disapproved of the plan, only one supported it. That poll found that fewer than 1 in 6 Americans expect their taxes to be reduced, while more than twice that many expect their taxes to go up. When it comes to just Republicans, a third expect to personally get a tax cut.

And although Republican leaders have hoped that passing the package will help their chances in the midterm elections next year, polls have also found that their proposals are far less popular than those introduced during George W. Bush’s administration. In October, a CBS News poll found that 70 percent of Americans didn’t think the tax bill should even be a top priority.

At the bowling alley, there was some support. Jeff Johnson, 58, said he expects that most middle-class families will see a cut of some sort, but he is most excited to see the corporate tax reduced, which he says will greatly help small businesses in Michigan. For years, Johnson ran his own company making commercial signs. He now works for a larger company that does the same thing.

"People always point to the rich, rich, rich - but that’s a small number of people. It’s mostly mom-and-pops," said Johnson, a Trump supporter who shared a pitcher of beer with friends as they played.

A few miles away at Art and Jake’s Sports Bar, two local business partners were practically giddy at the idea of the corporate tax rate going down. Jeff Hinsperger and Mark Matheson own the World Class Equipment Co. in Shelby, which builds robots to work in automobile manufacturing plants. Both voted for Trump.

Business has been booming - although they said they have struggled to get the financing needed to do all the job requests they receive. With more cash from paying less in taxes, they said, the company could finance more on its own, allowing them to hire more employees and invest in even more equipment.

"Everyone thinks business owners are greedy," Matheson said. "We’re not. We’re the ones with everything at risk."

Sitting across the bar that night were two other businessmen who were in town for work - one from Indianapolis, the other from Tennessee, both longtime Republicans. Neither of them expect to benefit from the tax cuts, and they’re skeptical that cuts for corporations will really trickle down to them. Both scoffed when asked whether members of Congress or the president care about the middle class.

Many interviewed in Michigan last week said the tax plan seems aimed at further dividing the wealthy from everyone else.

"They’re not looking out for the middle class," said Andrew Stewart, 30, a former hair stylist who works as a restaurant server while he’s studying to become an occupational therapist. "The separation between the middle class and the upper class, it’s growing, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. ... It’s easier to control people when they’re under your thumb."

Stewart supported Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for president in the primaries and believes Sanders was robbed of the Democratic nomination. He voted in the general election for Jill Stein of the Green Party, which he doesn’t regret - although he disapproves of how Trump is running the country.

"I feel completely unrepresented," he said, while studying at a local Starbucks. "I don’t feel like I’m represented at all. It’s just a sad time in American history."

Lee Johnson - a 63-year-old from Flint who is retired from working for the school district there - said that if the middle class really stood to benefit from this tax plan, Republicans wouldn’t have worked behind closed doors and rushed to pass it. Johnson voted for Hillary Clinton for president, although he considered her "the lesser of two evils."

As Johnson has watched interviews with Republican lawmakers, he said, he has noticed that they can’t answer this simple question: "Is this going to help the middle class?"

"I don’t even get upset anymore, because they’re not going to listen," said Johnson, who traveled to Sterling Heights on Wednesday to do some Christmas shopping at Lakeside Mall. "They don’t care. There’s nothing else to say. They just don’t care."

Getting lunch in the mall food court that afternoon was Mike Papastamatis, a 33-year-old dentist who is a partner in a local practice and expects his tax rate to fall about 10 points if the "pass-through" deduction is increased. While that will benefit him, he said the practice is fully staffed right now and there’s no need to expand.

And it bothers him that his employees and some of his relatives won’t benefit in the same way and could even be hurt. His parents were longtime employees at the local General Motors plant, and his mother recently asked him how the tax plan would help her.

"I said, ‘I don’t think it’s going to help,’ " said Papastamatis, a father of two young daughters who is an independent. "For the middle class, who they’re always talking about helping, it doesn’t seem to help."

A couple miles away at Nicky D’s Coney Island restaurant, Patrick Colley finished up lunch. The 59-year-old Teamster, who hauls cars, said he’s excited to finally see lawmakers talking about tax cuts for the middle class and to have a president who understands guys like him. He expects to benefit, although he isn’t sure by how much, and he hopes younger workers making much less than him are able to benefit even more.

But he worries that "there’s too much gray about the wealthy" in this tax plan.

In some ways, he thinks cutting the corporate tax rate will help small businesses - such as an automotive tool company owned by one of his friends who had to move some of his work overseas and is eager to bring it back to the United States. Changes such as that could snowball and help the economy, he said, but he’s not convinced that major corporations such as the one he works for will pass along the benefits to their employees, because they "are in the ‘not caring’ mode."

He’s frustrated that the wealthy get so many advantages, such as access to the best health insurance and tax breaks not available to everyone.

"It’s depressing, you know? It’s depressing. I pay like 30 percent (in taxes), and I’m a regular guy. It’s not fair. And a millionaire pays like 12 percent," he said. "It’s not fair. It’s not fair at all."

 
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