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Delaney: Gary the Barber

03/17/11 5:55PM By Dennis Delaney
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(HOST) Do politicians really care about the middle class after the elections? Commentator Dennis Delaney recently got an earful from Gary the barber.        

(DELANEY) Essex Junction, Vermont has always been a friendly place, almost like a large family; and no business is more fun to patronize in the Junction than Gary's Barber Shop. The fact that the barber shop is in a small strip mall diminishes none of its small town ambience. A few doors down from the shop is the Quality Bake Shop, where many of Gary's clients and other local folks gather for coffee and gab each morning.

Catch Gary in the right mood and he will regale you with tales of his younger self up north, like the story of hauling piglets in his pick-up for sale across the Quebec border. Gary lives in Bakersfield, and his anecdotes about life in rural Vermont are rich - and the haircut doesn't suffer for the telling. In his shop he promotes and sells every kind of shampoo on the planet, as well as gallons of fresh maple syrup in season.

Politicians, especially around election time, are always beating their breasts about the travails of the middle class. If they want to meet the real middle class, and get an earful of common sense at the same time, I recommend a stop at Gary's and the Bake Shop.

Not long ago I went to Gary's for a haircut. Although he is not the boisterous sort, Gary has as sharp a wit as you will find and an opinion on everything to go with it. But that morning Gary was glum, I might even say sad. Certainly not the usual Gary. He had been mulling over the proposal of a recent tax study, and his morale had clearly plummeted. The cause was a recommendation to tax services, a double whammy for a barber who makes his living providing service - the humble haircut, if you will - and who, like the rest of us, pays all the usual taxes as well.

For this hardworking middle class barber from rural Vermont the proposal meant that state government is once again poised to burden the little guy with a new tax. Gary said that this kind of tax hits hardest those earning 20, 30 or 40 thousand dollars a year:  the folks who cut your hair, dry-clean your clothes, fix your dripping faucet, or mount your snow tires. He said: "This hurts the little guy... not the millionaire." And for Vermonters like Gary with a small business to run, it means not just less money in the pocket but another layer of bookkeeping and cost to please the government.

Any change to Vermont tax structure is probably a long way off, but this particular idea does to ordinary folks what government sometimes does carelessly: it scares people, especially people like Gary the barber, struggling to make a living and to carve out a decent life in Vermont.
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