Legislative Watchdog

Local case study in raping the poor

A little background first, then to the meat and potatoes of this article. Hang in there. It'll be worth the long read.

The home base of RBN is Berks County, Pennsylvania, just outside the Philadelphia metro region. The county seat is Reading: an old city famous for outlet shopping and an actual Chinese pagoda resting on the mountainside above the modest city skyline. It’s a red county in a blue state. Bush won here by around 11,000 votes. Despite the slim 52/48 margin, Berks County consistently votes Republican for president. Strange, considering the high population of adult stores and "massage" parlors.

We also have one of "those" Republicans on the county board of commissioners, complete with his own mini-Rove political advisor. His name is Commissioner Mark Scott, and he hates poor people as well as people who don't speak his native WASP. He once postured to his wealthy suburban base by demagoguing against bilingual ballots. He lost the battle and the bilingual ballot measure was approved, but he handily won re-election in 2003. Nice guy. More in a minute.

During November's last county commissioner's meeting, the board considered the 2005 budget for the county. This budget contains a property tax increase of -- get this -- 34 percent. If you own a home, you're screwed.

All three county commissioners are against the punitively high tax increase, but will probably approve it simply because they don't quite know how else to -- here we go -- make up for the decreases in federal transfer payments to the county due to Bush's tax cuts. In other words, thanks to Mr. Bush's fiscal irresponsibility, there's not enough federal spending to go around, leaving counties like Berks high and dry.

In addition to illustrating one of many major flaws in Bush's through-the-looking-glass fiscal policies, it's also a perfect example of citizens voting against their own financial interests.Perhaps Berks Countians elected Bush to protect their guns. Berks loves its guns and hunting. There's a new Cabela's franchise here. Of course, very few people know that Cabela's was given enormous tax breaks and incentives to come to this forsaken burg. Tax breaks that the gun-toters who shop there will be paying for.But rather than blaming his own party's blunders in Washington for the tax hikes, we're getting more political posturing from Commissioner Scott.Make no mistake, he'll vote to adopt the 2005 budget, but in the meantime, he's back to demagoguing against the disenfranchised. Last year it was the "swarthies", this time it's the county's poor people. The tax increases, Scott is saying in a new series of local radio ads, are due in part to poor people who come to the area to plunder our human services programs. Human services like homeless assistance, low income housing programs, and child welfare. Programs vital to the area since the departure of the city’s manufacturing economic base.His solution?"Demolish more houses in the city so poor families will not be enticed by low rent housing to move in from outside the county," Scott told the Reading Eagle (article not online for linking).He continued, "Identify other factors that may be attracting poor families and eliminate them." By "them" we can only assume he wants to eliminate both the "other factors" AND "the poor families".Solid plan.What better way of reducing the poverty rate. Simply exterminate the impoverished! And to think of all the time we wasted with trying to create jobs and build affordable homes. Bah! Just get rid of them!So rather than calling for small cuts in incentives for retail megastores and bank branches, he'd rather cut funding to the poor and demolish their homes, effectively destroying their only hope for survival.Desperate people do desperate things, like selling drugs, abusing their children (Berks is already third in Pennsylvania for child abuse), or robbing the homes of near-by suburbanites who, themselves, might be slipping into poverty.The trickle-down effect of Bush’s tax cuts and budget deficits are beginning to feel more like a giant cartoon anvil landing on the heads of those most vulnerable. The middle class will become poor, the poor will become homeless, and the homeless will die, creating a Mobius Loop of poverty in an area already in danger of catastrophic implosion.Meanwhile, for many upper middle class residents who compose the core of the county's tax base, incentives to live here will diminish as property taxes (along with soaring utility costs -- another story) force them to move to areas closer to near-by New York, Allentown, or Philadelphia. After all, if the cost of living is going to rival areas closer to big cities, why stick around in a more rural county with little or no aesthetic appeal.The city will fall first. It doesn't have far to go, especially with a 420% increase in the occupational privilege tax. That's no typo, by the way. A 420% occupational privilege tax hike in Reading. A story for another time and place. Then, like a cancer, the rest of the county will go with it. As long as the contradictory voters here continue to cast ballots against their own self-interests, there's very little that can be done to stop it.Fortunately for Mark Scott, his 130 acre ranch could easily be fenced off to keep the new legions of poor people from setting up shanty towns on his spacious lawn.Learn more about Commissioner Mark Scott here.