Commentary: Florida has taken a bite out of corporate welfare; now it’s Washington’s turn

Op-Ed By Richard Corcoran

Orlando Sentinel

Here are a couple of numbers that ought to give us all pause.

In April, a Pew Research Center poll found that only one of five Americans trusted government “just about always” or “most of the time.” In a Reuters poll done on Election Day 2016, 72 percent of respondents said, “The American economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful.”

There are a lot of reasons for such cynicism. Unfortunately, most of them are well-founded.

One of the reasons is politicians who are beholden to special interests. Another is how the U.S. tax code favors the well-connected over ordinary Americans. Those two reasons are not unrelated.

The tax code is broken because all too often, politicians choose self-interest over the public good by using tax law and government programs to reward or benefit their political allies and other favored interests.

We have taken steps in Florida to address this problem, by hitting special interests where they will feel it.

During the last legislative session, we drastically reformed two programs that had grown out of control and outside the bounds of the free market. We eliminated programs that paid tax dollars to politically connected companies and replaced them with an infrastructure fund whose projects benefit all Floridians — projects that connect Florida such as roads, ports, airports and so much more. At the same time, we ended the secrecy and lack of accountability at the state's tourism marketing agency.

While there is always more to do, we are not waiting for Washington politicians to act. But it’d be nice if they’d lend a hand.

While the corporate welfare cited above were examples of wasteful spending, special-interest tax breaks are just as bad as special-interest spending — worse in some ways, because they’re easier to hide. And, just like wasteful spending, tax breaks for favored constituencies feed a culture of corruption.

But there is a great reservoir of goodwill among the American people. While they have justifiably lost faith in faithless politicians, most still have a great deal of faith in our system of government. It’s time we rewarded that faith with a little common sense and great deal of clarity.

We can start by overhauling our archaic tax code, which takes too much of your money, is too complicated for even the experts to understand, favors the well-connected over ordinary Americans, and stifles the economy.

The key is getting rid of special carveouts and loopholes and using that money to lower rates for all Americans.

Today’s outdated tax laws create an uneven contest between you and an army of the powerful and politically connected who hire lobbyists to plead for special tax breaks. They then hire lawyers and tax professionals to navigate the confusing system they helped create to lower or eliminate their tax bills. They use the savings to reward the politicians who wrote the laws that gave them an advantage.

Such gaming of the system cheats people who don’t have the time, money or inclination to beg Congress for favors, or to pay expensive accountants to scour the code on their behalf.

You should not have to be an accountant or a tax lawyer — or pay one — to comply with all the IRS regulations.

Reforming the tax code and getting rid of the endless array of special carveouts for the well-connected will lead to a more honest, transparent, and predictable system in which all taxpayers knows what they owe and can figure out how to pay it. The forces defending the status quo — that is, their own tax breaks — will be out in force to make sure this doesn’t happen.

We have to make sure it does.

We have to rise up and seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to unrig the economy by creating a tax system that is fairer and flatter, that rewards hard work and encourages job growth, and that once and for all disconnects the well-connected from their political patrons.

Rep. Richard Corcoran is speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. Chris Hudson is Florida state director of Americans for Prosperity.