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Who you callin' rich?

01/22/03 12:00AM By Libby Sternberg
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(Host) Commentator Libby Sternberg reflects on perceptions of wealth and the Bush tax proposal.

(Sternberg) Years ago, when I was a lowly assistant PR director, it was easy to look at the big boss of our department and think he was wealthy. He made a lot more money than I did. And he got a company car too, for crying out loud.

Nowadays, when I think of "the wealthy," I think of jet-setters who own several homes and airplanes, and might show up in People magazine in dazzling photos with sparkling smiles, designer clothing and dripping diamonds adorning their trim tanned bodies. Now that's wealth.

But would you describe two married teachers as wealthy? Two married veteran teachers working in, say, South Burlington, or Colchester, or Essex Junction might bring in a combined yearly income of more than $100,000. Or take one of those teachers married to a Vermont State Trooper - that couple would hover around the $100,000 mark too.

But if pressed, they'd probably not consider themselves wealthy at all. And I would tend to agree with them. They probably have to work hard to make mortgage and car payments, utilities, phone, and other operational expenses, and they might even be writing hefty tuition checks to a college for their children. My guess is that those imaginary couples don't have a lot of money leftover at the end of each year with which they can fly off to the Riviera for body toning spa treatments and shopping sprees along the Champs Elysee.

Yet, their combined incomes might just qualify them for the "wealthy" label, if we are to believe some of the critics of the new Bush tax cut proposal. Nearly 30% of all income taxes come from wage-earners in our fictional couple's income category, according to the U.S. Treasury. Another 45% comes from earners making $200,000 a year or more. Bush's tax cut proposal does lower taxes for both of these groups, but not as much as taxes are decreased for those farther down the income scale.

We can debate all we want about whether or not the tax cut proposal is a good stimulus for the economy. But when you start hearing the age-old cries of "tax cuts for the wealthy," don't assume critics are just talking about those surfing, sailing, sipping, sauna-soaking folks in People magazine. They might just be talking about those teachers. Or even you and me.

This is Libby Sternberg from Rutland.

Libby Sternberg is a free-lance writer, former chair of the Rutland County Republican Party, and is active in education issues.

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