Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Shaking the Moneytree: Greed seems prominent this election

From the Everett Herald:

Moneytree is the payday loan company headquartered in Seattle, with 130 branches in the Western U.S. In Everett you can get your payday loan from Moneytree on North Broadway or on Casino Road, and if that doesn’t work, just visit a branch in Marysville or Lynnwood or Monroe.

But be careful, because when you write Moneytree a postdated check for $575 that they will cash on your next pay day, you automatically lose $75. That’s an interest rate of 391 percent!

Moneytree says it provides a service for low-income residents. Some service — it sucks the money from the least fortunate among us. That’s why Moneytree’s branches are in low-income neighborhoods. You can’t find a Moneytree in Mercer Island and other neighborhoods of the wealthy. But you can find the multimillion dollar mansion of Dennis Bassford, Moneytree’s CEO, hidden in a private forest there.

The Bassfords — Dennis, and his brother Dave and sister-in-law Sara — spend a lot of money in Olympia to make sure the Legislature doesn’t curb their ability to mainline from the limited assets of low income workers. Between 2005 and 2009, Moneytree employed seven lobbyists in three states to protect its payday lending practices. They gave over half a million dollars to both Republican and Democratic candidates.

In this election cycle alone they have made contributions to Reps. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor; Norma Smith, R-Coupeville; Marko Liias, D-Edmonds; Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe; Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish; and Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens; and Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds. They also contributed to Sen. Jean Berkey, D-Everett, who lost her bid to be re-elected.

But that’s not the only place Mr. Bassford is putting his money to work. So far, he has contributed $10,000 to the campaign to defeat Initiative 1098 — and his brother and sister-in-law threw in another $10,000.

What’s at stake for them? Initiative 1098 will levy a 5 percent tax on the Bassfords’ income above $400,000 — hardly usurious, especially compared to the 391 percent interest rate Moneytree charges on small loans to poor people. Apparently saving a few thousand dollars is much more important than I-1098’s tax breaks for legitimate small businesses, property tax breaks for home owners and businesses, funding for lower class sizes in our elementary schools, or funding to extend basic health coverage to unemployed workers who are now uninsured.

There’s a pattern here. The opposition to Initiative 1098 boils down to greed, greed, and more greed — and education and health care be damned.

Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft and the 33rd wealthiest person in the world, is a $100,000 donor to the Defeat 1098 campaign. If 1098 was currently the law, on his income of $1.34 million from Microsoft this year he would have paid $60,600 — just four ten-thousandths of a percent of his $14.8 billion in personal assets. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, has also given $100,000 to defeat Initiative 1098. With 1098 as law, he would have paid $100,365 on his income of $1,781,840 from Amazon. Compare that to his $12.6 billion in wealth — that’s eight ten-thousandths of a percent.

Now consider what Mr. Ballmer has said about education: “Taxpayers in this state have to come to grips with the notion that says we need to invest more in our education system overall,” Ballmer said in 2003. Ballmer has also called for more investment in both K-12 education and research universities to fill the talent pipeline that Microsoft and other “innovation” companies need to expand here.

It seems that for Mr. Ballmer, education is important — but not important enough for him to pay a bit more in taxes. Maybe that’s for the little people?

Mr. Ballmer is not one of those. He is at the tippity-top of those who are doing quite well. In 1997, the top 1 percent of families averaged $930,000 for income. By 2007, their average income had increased by almost a half a million dollars. At the same the taxes they paid fell by almost half on capital gains, and by 12 percent on regular income.

Contrast that with the bottom nine-tenths of income earners in the United States, who averaged $33,666 per person in 2007. Including Social Security and Medicare taxes, their tax rate is now 32 percent. I-1098 won’t cost a penny for these folks. They will get lower class sizes for their kids, health care coverage through the basic health plan, and financial help for higher education.

That is, they catch a break, something they haven’t gotten for a very long decade.

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