Citizen Rebellions Were Long in the Making

Published April 15, 2009

Angry that the federal, state, and local governments are imposing ever-higher taxes and fees on income, retail sales, tobacco, beer and wine, gasoline, vehicle registrations, driver’s licenses, traffic tickets, and dozens of other things, citizens are rebelling.

The rebellion has been simmering for months, and it hit a boil on Wednesday as tens of thousands of people in hundreds of cities across the nation turned out for Tax Day Tea Parties, named for the rebels of 1773 who dumped shiploads of tea into Boston Harbor to protest taxes imposed by the British government.

Wednesday, of course, was the deadline for filing federal and state income tax returns, a day millions of taxpayers dread and fear.

Wednesday’s Tea Parties weren’t partisan affairs or protests aimed at only the federal government. Nor were they put-up jobs of rabble-rousing right-wing groups, as some left-wing commentators have alleged.

Last year, for instance, citizens in Pittsburgh dumped beer and liquor into the Allegheny River to protest a 10 percent tax on poured drinks. A judge banned from the November ballot a referendum that would have slashed the tax to almost nothing. Anger became so fierce that local officials dropped the tax 3 percentage points without the referendum. Further cuts could happen as the citizens’ anger shows little sign of letting up.

A few weeks ago in Kentucky, protesters poured bourbon on the state capitol’s front steps to demonstrate their opposition to a 6 percent sales tax on liquor.

These contemporary Whiskey Rebellions–the first occurred in the 1790s in Pennsylvania and spread to several other states–were spontaneous uprisings, as are Wednesday’s Tea Parties. Tax watchdog groups backing the parties jumped on a bandwagon that was already rolling.

Proof that the partygoers are nonpartisan comes from Ohio Tea Party participant Mary Peebles, who told Stuart Varney of Fox Business News on Tuesday, “Over the last year we have been sitting here seething with anger, watching things spin out of control.”

The president last year was George W. Bush, supposedly a conservative Republican.

In addition to starting the federal government down the path of trillions of dollars of corporate bailouts and economic stimulus packages, Bush gave the world its first $2 trillion government budget and ended his presidency with the world’s first $3 trillion government budget. He doubled the national debt to nearly $11 trillion in the process.

President Barack Obama has followed the trail Bush blazed.

State and local governments have created a similar spending surge. They now spend more than $1 trillion a year and are running hundreds of billions of dollars of deficits.

These huge government spending increases beg the question: If government spending, borrowing, and deficits strengthen an economy, as supporters of our nation’s financial rescues and bailouts argue, how did the economy weaken in the first place?

And exactly how will the 156 percent increase in the federal tax on cigarettes that took effect April 1 help the economy? The tax climbed from 39 cents to 1.01 a pack. Federal taxes on other tobacco products climbed even more.

These tax increases are an assault on low- and moderate-income families, as the median income for tobacco users is just $36,300. This is coming from a president who pledged during the 2008 campaign, “Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.”

Obama also supports the expiration of tax cuts signed into law earlier this decade, along with other measures sure to raise the cost of living. Among these is a “cap and trade” energy plan that virtually everyone, including Obama, expects to sharply raise costs for electricity and other energy.

Those attending the Tea Parties know what’s happening. They know government at every level is grabbing power, ignoring Constitutional limits, imposing huge burdens on future taxpayers, and weakening the dollar, which means lowering the standard of living of most citizens.

They also know the only way to stop these things is to demand it, loudly and publicly.

Steve Stanek ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute in Chicago.