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Well, Obama’s after A.I.G. hammer and tongs. Which is fine. More than fine.

 

But there’re also a couple of overlooked questions worth considering: Like why didn’t the Washington genius (and it’s beginning to look like it was Treasury Secretary Geithner) who poured $170 billion into A.I.G. have the good sense to tell A.I.G. up front, And, boys, don’t you even think of passing out any million-dollar bonuses?

 

Granted, most of us would have never dreamed of telling a bankrupt company (taking taxpayers’ money) not pay $165 million in bonuses. But Secretary Geithner’s been living and breathing Wall Street air – so he should have known.

 

On top of that, one of Congress’s solutions (trumpeted by New York Senator Charles Schumer) is to tax those bonuses right back out of the A.I.G. varmints – which certainly sounds satisfying and has a bare-knuckled kind of appeal. But, on the other hand, Congress starting to pass special taxes aimed at one company (or one particular set of varmints) it’s mad at could turn out to be opening Pandora’s box.

 

Because if Congress can just up and take those A.I.G. varmints’ bonuses – much as they deserve it – who’s safe? What’s to stop Congress from saying to the next fellow who might disagree with Obama or Nancy Pelosi, Well, we’ll just hit you with a special tax to bring you into line.

 

There’s an example of that happening right here in North Carolina. For the last couple of years, the state’s been locking horns with Alcoa Corporation over water rights on the Yadkin River (where Alcoa owns four hydroelectric dams).

 

It’s hard to see exactly why the state and Alcoa are having a battle royal over water rights (because surely Alcoa doesn’t want to tell the state how much water towns on the Yadkin can use). But, for whatever reasons, the governor, the commerce secretary and legislators are up in arms and, since the state and Alcoa haven’t been able to agree, four state senators have put in two bills to allow Stanly and Davie Counties to put a special tax on any corporation in their communities that generates hydroelectric power – which pretty clearly means Alcoa.

 

In other words if Alcoa doesn’t get in line – it gets to pay a special tax. Now, you’ve got to admit, politically, that’s pretty clever. Alcoa apparently sells very little electricity in those two counties (the power generated goes elsewhere) – so the counties tax money out of Alcoa to spend it in their communities and, I guess, the only losers are Alcoa’s stockholders. That’s called a win-win for the legislators. They get to take money from people who don’t vote in their districts and give it to people who do.  

 

But if legislators are going to start taxing businesses who don’t agree with state policies who’s next?

 

The government taxing the varmints at A.I.G. has an appeal – but getting congressmen and senators in the habit of passing special taxes on people they get mad at could turn out to have its downside.

 

 

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