In light of the tax deal, you’ll be happy to know that movement, right-wing conservatives are excited for at least one group of people to pay a high, mid-century level marginal tax rate of 70-80%.
When researchers run statistics over state-level incarceration rates, they find things like “controlling for social disorganization, religious fundamentalism, political conservatism, and violent crimes, the results show that Republican strength [in state governments]…lead to higher imprisonment rates. Statistical interactions support predictions that these relationships became stronger after greater Republican stress on law and order.” States with a Republican governor and Republican legislatures show a greater increase in incarcerated populations, and that the effect is stronger in the 1990s.
But how do you get from A to B? Here’s an institution called American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, founded by one of the co-founders of the right-wing think tank Heritage Foundation, comes into play. ALEC creates model legislation for states to pass as conservatives flocked into both governorships and legislative bodies. A recent project, Alec Exposed, was able to get their hands on the whole body of model bills and has been going through them with reporters, including those from The Nation, which is running an excellent series on this.
The latest is The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor, and it is from labor journalist Mike Elk and prisoner labor writer and activist Bob Sloan. In it, they outline how influential ALEC was with getting these new Republican state bodies standardized and thought-out approaches to maximal incarceration and uprooting Federal prison labor protections:
Somewhat more familiar is ALEC’s instrumental role in the explosion of the US prison population in the past few decades. ALEC helped pioneer some of the toughest sentencing laws on the books today, like mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenders, “three strikes” laws, and “truth in sentencing” laws. In 1995 alone, ALEC’s Truth in Sentencing Act was signed into law in twenty-five states. (Then State Rep. Scott Walker was an ALEC member when he sponsored Wisconsin’s truth-in-sentencing laws and, according to PR Watch, used its statistics to make the case for the law.) More recently, ALEC has proposed innovative “solutions” to the overcrowding it helped create, such as privatizing the parole process through “the proven success of the private bail bond industry,” as it recommended in 2007. (The American Bail Coalition is an executive member of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force.) ALEC has also worked to pass state laws to create private for-profit prisons, a boon to two of its major corporate sponsors: Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections), the largest private prison firms in the country.
ALEC’s Truth in Sentencing Act, which radically changed how sentencing is carried out in this country, passed in half the states during 1995; there is part of the institutional nuts-and-bolts of how conservative political gains are turned into a conservative world. I’d like to see more on how the standardization “model” bills help with fast implementation – does standardization reduce fixed costs of research, talking points etc.? Does it create a groups of states motivated to all jump together? Does having standardized laws that pass encourage states more cautious?
The article, which is worth your time, goes on to explain how ALEC has worked to overturn prison labor laws, in part by innovating around interstate-contract laws. My favorite: “The Prison Industries Act was also written to exploit a critical PIE loophole that seemed to suggest that its rules did not apply to prisoner-made goods that were not shipped across state lines. It allowed a third-party company to set up a local address in a state that makes prison goods, buy goods from a prison factory, sell those products locally or surreptitiously ship them across state borders.” Fantastic.
Side note: Workers get “paid” very low wages for their work, often a $1 an hour. But how much of that do they get? I’m still trying to figure out the complicated ways this all works, but looking at guidelines that have been developed in the incarceration era we see that deductions can be made for taxes, room and board, family support, restitution, and other items. But, it is noted, that “Such deductions, in aggregate, cannot exceed 80 percent of gross wages.” So law and order conservatives like an 80% tax rate on people earning less than a dollar
a day an hour. How’s that for revenues?
(A) The department shall withhold any pay for the inmate’s applicable state and local income taxes andfederal income, social security, and medicare taxes.
(B) Of the remaining balance:
(1) if the inmate has been ordered by the court to pay restitution to the victim of his or her crime, 20 percent shall be paid for that restitution on the inmate’s behalf, in accordance with the court order,until the amount of restitution is satisfied. If the restitution is satisfied, 10 percent shall be added to the escrow account under Subparagraph 4 and 10 percent shall be deposited with the state treasurerand credited to the general fund in addition to the amount in Subparagraph 5.
(2) if the inmate has a spouse or children, 20 percent shall be paid to the inmate’s spouse or children for the purpose of family support. If the inmate’s spouse or children receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) or general assistance under the social welfare acts of this state, whilethe inmate is incarcerated, the 20 percent designated in this subdivision shall be deposited with thestate treasurer and credited to the general fund as repayment of that aid or assistance, until thatamount of aid or assistance is repaid.
(3) Ten percent shall be paid to the inmate for his or her personal use while incarcerated.
(4) Ten percent shall be held by the department in an escrow account for the inmate, and shall bereturned to the inmate upon his or her release.
(5) the balance remaining after the deductions specified in Subparagraphs (1) and (4) shall bedeposited with the state treasurer and credited to the general fund, as partial reimbursement to thestate for the cost of the inmate’s imprisonment and care.
Pay regular taxes, and then pay and additional amount that could be 70-80%. Now that’s a marginal tax rate!
#2 is my absolutely favorite. Pre-welfare reform, when AFDC was still in effect, if a prisoner’s spouse or children received welfare the prisoner would have to pay the state back out of wages. (Mind you, if a prisoner’s spouse or children claimed a mortgage-interest tax deduction, or had their employers provide health care that was subsidized, then they don’t have to pay that back.) How’s that for a war on the poor with every racial signal flare firing into the air?