Columns » Hightower

A deficit hawk's tax loophole




What's your favorite adult beverage? Some like Johnnie Walker Black Label, and others like Black Box wine.

However, no one drinks a product called "black liquor," even though we all pick up the tab for it.

Black liquor is an alcoholic sludge. It's a byproduct of wood processing, used as a fuel in timber and paper mills. While you wouldn't ever imbibe the stuff, Sen. Mike Crapo, a Republican from Idaho, has made sure that we taxpayers have to swallow an even less-tasty, $3-billion-dollar-a-year federal subsidy for a handful of very profitable corporations that use the sludge to power their plants.

This tax dodge is ridiculous, first because it benefits so few at such a high price.

Second, it's especially interesting and hypocritical that Sen. Crapo is the one who poked the sludge-subsidy pipeline into law, for this lawmaker routinely blasts other senators for making the federal deficit worse by creating tax loopholes for — hello — special interests.

Third, Sen. Crapo's loophole is truly loopy, for the subsidy comes out of a program set up by Congress specifically for alternative fuels in automobiles.

Black liquor definitely does not qualify, but that's no barrier for a high-stepping senator out to subsidize a home state corporation.

So — hocus-pocus — alcoholic sludge was magically defined as a fuel for vehicles, letting Crapo's favored corporations hot-rod around their tax obligations.

Wait, there's more.

Not wanting to be seen as just another senatorial servant of industry, deficit hawk Crapo performed his black magic in the dark, working behind closed doors early this year to preserve the fuel-funding loophole for black liquor.

The next time you hear Congress critters like Crapo demanding that you sacrifice to cut the deficit, demand that they show you the rabbits they're hiding in their magician's hat.

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit

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