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Meanwhile, down in sunny San Juan...

As I See It

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — What is a country boy from Mississippi doing in Puerto Rico anyway? Escaping from the winter storm which besieged Mississippi with snow, sleet and ice? No. Actually, the Mississippi Business Journal is a member of a business newspaper association (AABP), and my bride and I are attending the annual publishers meeting here.

We haven’t been totally unimpacted by the winter weather. It got down to a chilly 82 degrees one day.

Since our focus this week is hotels and tourism, I feel compelled to make several observations relative to this subject.

Numero uno, I don’t like to travel very much. Six years “on the road” between Jackson and Mexico in a former occupation was sufficient to wear away the excitement that one generally associates with being on the go. However, if one is going to travel, staying at the Ritz Carlton in San Juan has a lot going for it. The facility and staff were impeccable, as one might expect for $200+ a day. And one could grow accustomed to those $45 room service breakfasts.

Puerto Rico is an interesting study in contrast. It is a U.S. possession (technically, a commonwealth) which subjects its citizens to U.S. laws and taxes without the benefit of statehood. I would say it is about halfway between the U.S. mainland and Mexico in terms of development. Drivers are more “aggressive” than one finds stateside but nothing to compare with the fanatics who terrorize the Mexican highways.

I watched the President’s “State of the Union” Thursday night on TV — CNN is everywhere. This took substantial commitment on my part since Puerto Rico time is two hours ahead of Central Standard Time, and therefore, I had to prop my eyes open to hear the President speak from 10 to 11:30 p.m. I have often been critical of President Clinton in the past (beginning in ‘92) and my view is unchanged. However, rather than taking another opportunity to broadside him generally, I want to address the basic difference in economic philosophies that his address so clearly illustrated.

As the President waltzed through a cornucopia of new social spending programs with price tags in excess of $250 billion, it was apparent that he treats the federal surplus as a gold mine discovered on national park land and therefore not really belonging to anyone in particular. Actually, the taxpayers have been “overcharged” and the surplus belongs to them. The fairest thing would obviously be to return the funds to those who paid too much and get on with the business of running our government. Therein lies the problem.

Mr. Clinton’s constituency is not the group who overpaid their taxes to create the surplus. In fact, many (if not most) of his constituents don’t pay income tax at all. Further fact, many of Mr. Clinton’s supporters receive benefit of a “negative income tax” in the form of the earned income credit wherein a person pays nothing in tax and gets a refund anyway. Refunding the money to those who paid it would not be politically savvy for Mr. Clinton.

It occurred to me that the majority of Clinton supporters pay little or no tax and yet are allowed substantial input in governing the nation. It doesn’t stagger the intellect to see evidence of “taxation without representation” in this scenario. If this situation doesn’t promote class warfare I can’t imagine what would. Everybody really should pay some nominal amount of tax since we don’t place much value on free stuff.

Fortunately, the Clinton era is coming to a close soon. Fortunately also is the high unlikelihood that many, if indeed any, of the new spending programs proposed in the State of the Union address will ever see the light of legislation. Unfortunately, however, the State of the Union address has been desecrated to a political forum with no higher purpose that trying to get Al Gore elected president and Bill Clinton remembered in a positive way. I think it will fail in both these somewhat unlofty goals.

THOUGHT FOR THE MOMENT

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

— 2 TIMOTHY 4:7

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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