October 14, 2006 in City

Candidates grapple over taxes

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Democratic congressional candidate Peter Goldmark picked a pro-business crowd Friday morning to challenge incumbent Cathy McMorris’ ads that claim he supports tax increases and that she supports veterans.

Appearing in a debate in front of the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce, Goldmark cut short his answer on a question about tax policy to turn to McMorris and demand she answer for a current television commercial that calls him “the tax man.”

He hasn’t called for a tax increase in any of his speeches, nor does he mention them anywhere on his campaign Web site, Goldmark said.

“You have been critical of the Bush tax cuts,” replied McMorris. “If you do not favor the Bush tax cuts, there will be tax increases.”

“I have never advocated for a tax increase,” he countered.

The sharp exchange comes after each campaign has accused the other of lying. McMorris contends Goldmark is misrepresenting her record on support for veterans’ programs and for Fairchild Air Force Base. He counters that she’s misrepresenting him on taxes, and that he’s right about veterans and the West Plains military facility.

All of those topics came up at the one-hour Chamber debate in the Spokane Athletic Club. Neither used the word “liar” when talking about the other, but each questioned the other’s facts while misstating some of their own.

Here’s a closer look at some of the topics from the debate:

Fairchild

Keeping Fairchild open in the face of base closures around the country has been one of the Chamber’s top priorities, and McMorris said she was proud of her work with Forward Fairchild, its group to prepare for the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. One of her television commercials says she “helped save” the base.

But the base isn’t “safe and secure,” Goldmark contended.

“It’s true that we’re going to lose 260 jobs,” he said, adding that it already has lost 60 KC-135 tankers in the last four to five years and is scheduled to lose eight others.

Goldmark said later he misspoke, and intended to say the base had as many as 60 tankers in the last five years, but now has substantially fewer. That later description is more accurate. Fairchild had between 60 and 65 tankers assigned to the 92nd Air Refueling Wing, and another eight to 10 assigned to the Washington Air National Guard through about 2001. Because of reassignments and consolidations, the 92nd is down to about 35 tankers, a base spokesman said, and the Air Guard’s 141st Air Refueling Wing is expected to lose its remaining eight tankers.

The 260 jobs he mentioned are also in dispute. Air Force officials recently have tried to back away from an exact number of jobs to be lost in the next three years, saying the 260 figure released last month by Fairchild officials was unauthorized and “premature.” But the number is proportional to the overall force cuts the Air Force has announced.

Taxes

McMorris said the Bush administration’s tax cuts should be made permanent: “The deficit has been cut in half … because the tax cuts have spurred this economy.”

She wants a repeal of the estate tax, which like most Republicans she called “the death tax,” saying “on average it’s 50 percent of the asset.”

Goldmark said he supports tax cuts that have helped the middle class but contended some of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy shifted the burden to the middle class: “We should think about the middle class rather than the super-rich.”

McMorris’ estimate of the estate tax taking 50 percent of an asset is based on a Congressional Budget Office report that said the rate for those who pay the tax would return to between 41 percent and 60 percent after 2010 if the tax cuts expire, her campaign spokeswoman later said. But that same report says that only about 2 percent of all estates pay the tax. Henry Aaron, a tax researcher for the Brookings Institute, said that the tax burden is often reduced by exemptions and deductions, so that “under 1 percent of all estates are hit hard,” and those are estates of $10 million or more.

The Tax Policy Center said the Bush tax cuts reduced the burden on all income brackets, but the rich paid proportionally more before the cuts and still do.

On the question of tax increases, the state Republican Party tried later Friday to shore up McMorris’ charge that Goldmark is a “tax man” by issuing a press release that claimed if Goldmark won and Democrats took control of Congress, some of their leaders have said they would repeal the Bush tax cuts. But Goldmark is correct that his Web site does not call for any tax increases in its discussion of issues, and he hasn’t called for an increase in his standard stump speech.

Veterans

Both candidates claim to be more supportive of veterans, with Goldmark ads saying veterans’ funding has been cut and McMorris saying it’s gone up. That continued in Friday’s debate.

McMorris said the Department of Veterans Affairs budget received a historic increase of about $12 billion in the two years she’s been in Congress, and she voted for those raises.

“The VA hospital in Spokane has had its hours cut back despite statements that we’ve had historic funding,” Goldmark said.

He introduced an Iraqi war veteran, Marine Ian Anderson, who later said he is 100 percent disabled from injuries in the war and relies on the VA for medical care. Anderson said he once waited for two days because he went to the VA when the urgent care center was closed.

McMorris is right that the VA budget was increased both years she was in Congress and is larger than ever, although critics also have noted that because of the war in Iraq and the aging veterans of other wars, the number of veterans and their needs are growing faster than the budget.

In July, the local VA Medical Center did limit the hours for its urgent care center, closing at 4:30 p.m. each day rather than operating around the clock. At the time, a hospital official said urgent care had few patients who came in after 4:30.

But earlier this month, an 83-year-old veteran with respiratory problems died after arriving at the VA hospital shortly after the urgent care center had closed for the day. VA staff called paramedics, but he was dead when he arrived at Deaconess Medical Center. Goldmark said the veteran, Clinton Fuller, didn’t have to die; McMorris has asked national and regional VA officials to explain the policies at the Spokane center involved in Fuller’s death.


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