A rising tide of buyer's remorse even in the Red State Bluegrass State?

By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360

Donald Trump carried all but two of Kentucky’s 120 counties, and he collected a whopping 62.5 percent of the vote.

Kentucky is among only a dozen states where the president’s popularity is 50 percent or higher. He’s at 51 in the Red State Bluegrass State.

Nationwide, Trump received votes from 43 percent of union households, according to a Roper poll. The survey didn’t break down the results state by state. The president probably did as well or better among Kentucky union households.

Anyway, go ahead and call it whistling past the graveyard. But the 51 percent number suggests that buyer’s remorse is creeping up in the border state I’ve called home for all my 68 years.

I’ve packed a union card for about two dozen years. Most of us in organized labor voted for Hillary Clinton, the AFL-CIO-endorsed Democrat. But I’m hearing about rumblings of regret in union ranks.

We said Trump was—and still is—a fraud and a con man. He ran on a standard Wall Street Republican platform with planks supporting:

-- “right to work” (On the campaign trail, Trump said he preferred RTW states to non-RTW states.)

-- repeal of the prevailing wage on federal construction projects

-- deep cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

-- sharp rollbacks in federal regulations that safeguard worker safety and health on the job, protect consumers and shield the environment from polluters

-- hefty tax breaks for corporations and rich people and tax crumbs for the rest of us

The Trump-Republican Robin-in-reverse tax bill came up at this month's meeting of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council, where I’m recording secretary.  

“We’ve always preached that what’s good for the union is good for everybody, and it has been historically,” said delegate Jimmy Evans, IBEW Local 816 business manager.

He cited as proof the tax legislation, which AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called in a statement "nothing but an attack on America’s workers.” He added, “We will pay more, corporations and billionaires will pay less. It’s a job killer. It gives billions of tax giveaways to big corporations that outsource jobs and profits.”

The devil is always in the details. Under the tax bill, corporations can deduct payments to union-busting lawyers, but union members can’t deduct their union dues, according to the USW.

"Previously, employees could potentially write off work-related expenses that added up to more than 2 percent of their gross income, and for which an employer didn't reimburse them," explained CNBC's Annie Nova. 

Nova also wrote that the axing of "miscellaneous itemized deductions" for a lot of taxpayers might not sound like a big deal, but she cautioned that their disappearance “will leave a hole in many workers' pockets, experts say.”

The end of those deductions "was a shot across the bow of union members,” Evans said. “But it also affects a lot of non-union members that work construction, just like it does our construction members.”

Nova also said workers can no longer deduct "work-related legal fees...medical examinations required by an employer, union dues and licenses."

She quoted Seth Harris, a deputy labor secretary under President Barack Obama: “The really big story of the tax bill is that it favors capital over labor. It's heavily skewed to benefit people who get money without working, as opposed to those who labor for a living."

Harris also told her that many workers who itemize have a lot of different expenses — including mortgages — that would still make itemizing worth their while. He added that deductions for corporations are still abundant.

In addition, Nova quoted David Kamin, a law professor at New York University who was an economic policy advisor in the Obama administration: "While people can say there's a doubling of the standard deduction, those who have significant unreimbursed business expenses will not do as well.”

She also interviewed Martin Davidoff, a New Jersey CPA and tax attorney who said it's unfair that companies can still deduct the "so-called cost of doing business."  

"Take a look at McDonald's," he told Nova. "They spend $50 million on a Superbowl ad, and they get to deduct it."

Tax attorney Paul Drizner said that under the tax bill, many teachers will be forced to choose between spending less on their classrooms or taking home less from their salaries. (Teachers can still can claim a $250 above-the-line deduction on unreimbursed workplace expenses if they itemize or not, according to Nova). "Teachers shouldn't be paying out of their own pocket to put their lessons together," said Drizner in the story. 

Evans said it’s not just the tax bill that has union members rethinking the ballots they cast for Trump and other Republicans. “Now they’re wanting to get back on board and be on our side again. They see that those things we fought for is what helped them.”

I carry AFT and NEA/KEA retiree cards. More than a few community college and public-school teachers not only voted for Trump in 2016, they also cast ballots for GOP Gov. Matt Bevin the year before. (Most of us in AFT and KEA also voted for Jack Conway, the KEA and Kentucky State AFL-CIO-endorsed Democratic gubernatorial hopeful.

The fact that the president's popularity rating in Kentucky is 11.5 percentage points lower that his victory margin suggests that many Trump backers regret their votes. We'll know more in a Feb. 20 special House election in Bullitt County.

The incumbent, Republican Dan Johnson, took his own life. His widow, Republican Rebecca Johnson, who shares her late husband's ultra-conservative views, wants to replace him. Her opponent is state AFL-CIO and KEA-endorsed Democrat Linda Belcher, whom Dan Johnson unseated in 2016.  

KEA warned that the tea party-tilting Bevin could turn out to be the worst governor for public education in a long time, if not ever. Unions warned he was a union-buster to boot.

In 2017, he and his GOP-majority legislature pushed through a bill authorizing charter schools, which drain much-needed funds from public schools. (With Bevin cheering them on, GOP lawmakers also passed a “right to work” law and repealed the prevailing wage on state construction jobs.

Bevin’s proposed 2018 budget takes a meat-axe to education spending from kindergarten through higher education, including community colleges and state universities. He also wants to gut the workers' compensation program. 

Too, in the phony name of pension “reform,” Bevin has proposed a measure that would curb some benefits for current employees and retirees and force most new hires onto risky 401(a) programs.

Teachers are up-in-arms over the pension bill. (The GOP-majority House has been devising its own pension bill behind closed doors but has yet to release it.)

“It’s great to see all the educators getting involved,” Evans said. “But you know what it took to get them involved? Somebody is dipping his hand into their wallets.”

Evans hates to say, “we told you so,” but he reminded the delegates at our meeting that, all along, organized labor has been telling union members what politicians like Trump and Trump fan Bevin "want to do to them. It’s the same in our ranks. It’s taken politicians dipping into their wallets to get a lot of people re-engaged.”