Tax info and lessons of life

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Don't let the tax cuts expire: At the end of the year, the 2003 tax cuts are set to expire. That means that, as of Jan. 1, taxes on capital gains and dividends will soar.

The maximum capital gains tax rate will increase as much as 33 percent, and the dividend tax rate for some individuals would climb as much as 164 percent.

This is the wrong approach, as many members of Congress and the Obama administration admit.

True. The groups for which we work, the Missouri Grocers Association and the Missouri Retailers Association, represent some 1,300 small-business owners who employ tens of thousands of people. They're struggling to create jobs.

Yet, if Congress doesn't act, it will make their work more difficult by ratcheting up taxes on working Americans. That would make it more difficult to turn a profit.

Already, many small businesses are surviving on the thinnest of margins. Their attempts to create new jobs, invest in new equipment and support long-term economic recovery will be challenging enough if the current 15 percent maximum tax rate on both dividends and capital gains is extended. Their work may become impossible if those taxes increase. That would damage our nation's prospects for a timely and lasting economic recovery.

There are other considerations, too.

"I don't care if it's the wealthiest of the wealthy, you don't raise their taxes," Rep. Bobby Bright, D-Ala., said recently. "In a recession, you don't tax, burden and restrict. The economy is like a ship, and if you sink the ship, all the good you might do goes down with it."

Increasing taxes on dividends would harm seniors, who often depend on those payments to make ends meet. That means they would have less money in the short term and, because companies respond to market signals, less in the long term.

Why? Because, if the government increases tax rates on dividends, fewer companies will offer dividends. Those who kept paying them would pay smaller dividends, thus squeezing seniors even more. And companies would be tempted to borrow more instead of returning profits to shareholders. We've seen what overborrowing does to the economy, as our country keeps trying to clean up the mortgage mess.

-- From David Overfelt, president of the Missouri Retailers Association, and Dan Shaul, state director of the Missouri Grocers Association

President Obama has added more to the national debt in his first 19 months in office than all presidents from Washington through Reagan combined, according to government data.

Nell Holcomb School will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Sunday. Congratulations on a job well done.

Four lessons about the way we treat people:

1. First important lesson -- cleaning lady. During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions until I read the last one: "What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?"

Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would I know her name?

I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade.

"Absolutely," said the professor. "In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say "Hello."

I've never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.

2. Second important lesson -- always remember those who serve. In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10-year-old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him.

"How much is an ice cream sundae?" he asked. "Fifty cents," replied the waitress.

The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied the coins in it.

"Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?" he inquired.

By now more people were waiting for a table, and the waitress was growing impatient.

"Thirty-five cents," she brusquely replied. The little boy again counted his coins. "I'll have the plain ice cream," he said.

The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and left. When the waitress came back, she began to cry as she wiped down the table. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies.

You see, he couldn't have the sundae because he had to have enough left to leave her a tip.

3. Third important lesson -- the obstacle in our path: In ancient times, a king had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king's wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear. But none did anything about getting the stone out of the way.

Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many of us never understand: Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.

4. Fourth important lesson -- giving when it counts: Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year-old brother who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister.

I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, "Yes, I'll do it if it will save her." As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheek. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded.

He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, "Will I start to die right away?"

Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her.

-- E-mail from a friend

Gary Rust is chairman of Rust Communications.

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