Virginia Gubernatorial Candidates Debate a Ridiculously Low Top Tax Bracket

by Jim Geraghty

This is the last Jolt until October 10. Happy Columbus Day! Celebrate by going someplace you’ve never been before and calling it “India.”

Forget a Millionaires’ Tax, Virginia Has a Seventeen-Thousand-aires’ Tax

The campaign of Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie unveils a new ad today:

GILLESPIE: “Virginia’s top personal income tax rate kicks in at $17,000 a year. Ralph Northam thinks that makes you rich. Maybe that’s why he’s never voted for a tax cut. My plan cuts taxes for all Virginians, increasing take-home pay for the average family by nearly $1,300 and creating 53,000 good-paying jobs. With a stronger economy, we can invest more in our schools and increase teacher pay. I’m Ed Gillespie, candidate for governor, and I sponsored this ad.”

Northam’s accusation that $17,000 in income makes you rich stems from this exchange at their debate September 19:

NORTHAM: This plan, ladies and gentlemen, that you just heard, is a tax cut for the rich at the expense of the working class, and you have to look no further than Kansas to see exactly what a plan such as this would do. It almost bankrupt them. They actually had to turn around and raise taxes. It put schools in jeopardy. They went from a five day week to a four day week. Let me tell you what we need to do in Virginia. We need to invest in Virginia. Because when we invest in Virginia we can beat, as I said earlier, any other state. . . . 

Northam went on to call for more transportation spending and education spending. Gillespie responded:

GILLESPIE: This is really important. This is very important. First of all, Ralph says these are tax cuts for the rich. These are tax cuts for all Virginians. And the fact is, if you paid $7,000 in taxes under current law under my plan, when fully implemented responsibly phased in over three years, you would have $700 less in tax burden, that you could spend as you see fit for your family. Virginians need that tax relief. Tax cut for the rich — the top rate in Virginia, 5.75 percent kicks in at an income level of $17,000 a year. I didn’t say $70,000; I said $17,000. And my opponent thinks you’re rich and that’s just flat wrong.

Virginia’s tax rates can be found here, and the state’s top tax rate does indeed kick in after $17,000 in income. As the state helpfully points out, if your taxable income is $54,000, your tax is $720 + 5.75 percent of the amount over $17,000. This comes out to $2,848.

Northam spent six years in the state Senate and never voted for a tax cut at all?

Unanswered Questions and Another Era of American Paranoia

It’s been five days since the worst mass shooting in American history, and the public still doesn’t know the Las Vegas shooter’s motive.

The investigation into what drove Stephen Paddock to open fire on a music festival in Las Vegas last Sunday is crawling into its fifth day with ever-mounting questions and few answers.

Paddock, the lone suspect according to Las Vegas police, killed himself in the hotel suite he had rented on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino as police closed in on his location. And along with Paddock went any clear answer for why he opened fire on the festival and killed 58 people and wounded 489 others.

Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo, the public face of the investigation, has had few answers for why Paddock committed the crime. Authorities did not hold a press conference on Thursday, the first day since Sunday there was none.

Lombardo has said investigators are looking at a computer and multiple electronic devices found in the suite at the Mandalay Bay hotel. Authorities have also removed evidence from homes Paddock owned in Mesquite and Reno, Nevada. There have not been any revelations so far.

Authorities also found a note in Paddock’s hotel room but said it was not a suicide note. The contents are unknown.

A couple of the retired law enforcement talking heads on the network assure us that the FBI knows more than they are saying. I hope the good men and women at the Bureau understand that we’re rapidly approaching a moment where the public could use some reassurance. We’re used to certain explanations for a sudden horror like this: he’s a jihadist (Orlando), he’s an angry, disturbed teenager (Columbine), he’s got some extreme political agenda (the Alexandria Congressional baseball practice shooter).

It’s a new level of troubling to think that someone could spend months planning an elaborate massacre – perhaps an entire year? – hide it from everyone who knew him, and not even have any discernable motive. We have a certain set of behaviors we’ve consciously or subconsciously learned be on alert for – i.e., jihadism, angry disturbed teenagers, or extreme political views.

One of the better discussions of the week came from a fellow on Twitter who felt perplexed about Americans’ attachment to their guns and observed, accurately, I think, “This goes beyond rights, hunting, collectors. People are afraid and preparing. It’s not a sign of a healthy society.”

(Yesterday President Trump said to reporters, without elaborating, “this is the calm before the storm.”)

Trust in government has been declining for a long time, but it hasn’t declined steadily. It declined steeply after Watergate, rebounded healthily during the Reagan and Bush presidencies, took a steep dive a the end of the George H.W. Bush presidency, gradually had a modest recovery during the Clinton presidency, jumped back up after 9/11, and declined from about mid-Bush, throughout the Obama presidency, and into Trump’s.

Republican administrations earned their share of the blame for the erosion of public trust: Iran-Contra, the failure to find the expected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the difficulties in the response to Hurricane Katrina, the bursting of the housing bubble and onset of the Great Recession in 2008…

Now throw in, “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” “jayvee team,” the initial claim that Benghazi was a protest that got out of control, the characterization of the Fort Hood shooting as “workplace violence,” the initial claim that the San Bernardino attack was also “workplace violence,” the claims that the Orlando attack was a result of “Republican hate” and homophobia. The FBI initially redacted all references to ISIS in the transcript of the Orlando shooter’s call.

It is not wildly irrational to believe that there are some people out there who want to kill you, and that the United States government isn’t willing to be honest with you about the situation.

But those who have long memories or who have studied history may dispute that this is the most paranoid, frightening, or dangerous moment in American life.

When you think about times when it felt like American society was coming apart at the seams, I can only imagine how Americans felt in 1974 when the long-lost kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst reappeared, only to have been brainwashed into becoming a bank robber for a cult/terrorist group, the Symbionese Liberation Army. The level of political violence in the early 1970s is jaw-dropping today:

The first actual bombing campaign, the work of a group of New York City radicals led by a militant named Sam Melville, featured attacks on a dozen buildings around Manhattan between August and November 1969, when Melville and most of his pals were arrested.

Weather’s attacks began three months later, and by 1971 protest bombings had spread across the country. In a single eighteen-month period during 1971 and 1972 the FBI counted an amazing 2,500 bombings on American soil, almost five a day. Because they were typically detonated late at night, few caused serious injury, leading to a kind of grudging public acceptance. The deadliest underground attack of the decade, in fact, killed all of four people, in the January 1975 bombing of a Wall Street restaurant. News accounts rarely carried any expression or indication of public outrage.

That’s before my time, but the paranoia of the 1990s wasn’t. Start with the first World Trade Center bombing, then move on to Waco, Ruby Ridge, the Oklahoma City bombing, the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics, TWA Flight 800, John F. Kennedy Jr.’s death in a plane crash, and EgyptAir flight 990 suddenly descending and crashing into the ocean with a seemingly calm pilot at the controls.

It’s not surprising that The X-Files was a hit and Art Bell was a sensation on radio during those years, because the nightly news was turning twisted and weird and disturbing. Jeffrey Dahmer ate people. That old football star who was in wacky comedies was charged with murdering two people. A Long Island teenager shot her married lover’s wife, and turned into some sort of weird celebrity. A rivalry between Olympic figure skating stars turned violent.

When things are bad, and weird, and ominous, it helps to remember . . .  we’ve been though variations of this before, and managed to pull through. We’ll get through this, too.

ADDENDA: A perfectly faux-inspiring slogan from my friend Lisa De Pasquale’s new book, The Social Justice Warrior Handbook: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of good over evil is to tweet about it.”

The Morning Jolt

By Jim Geraghty