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Obama's Lunch Money Tax Break Hurts Those in Pricey Areas

President Obama’s nearly $800-billion stimulus package finally passed – including the mini-tax break of $400 per person. That’s about enough money for each taxpayer to go to lunch once a week – but only for fast food. At $7.69 a week, Obama’s “Making Work Pay” tax credit doesn’t make work pay very well – and it’s a lot worse depending on where you live.


The Roman Caesars appeased their people with bread and circuses. Obama has offered ours a few items from the Dollar Menu at McDonald’s. And, as for circuses, the passage of this 1,071-page American Recovery and Reinvestment Act certainly ought to qualify. More than 300 senators and representatives – nearly all Democrats – voted for the largest spending bill in history without ever reading the darn thing.


I could say don’t spend it all in one place, but that’s difficult. Let’s face it: $400 is $400 – even in good economic times. But government is delivering a piddling $7.69 weekly, or is it weakly, and that is almost laughable. Almost as bad as the bill’s strategy to penalize taxpayers who make too much according to Washington bureaucrats.


The cut off for these mini-windfalls, according to the Feb. 14 New York Times, is: “Individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples up to $150,000 will qualify for a full credit.” That’s nice, straight to the point and exactly 100 percent wrong.


The problem here is that the government is treating all taxpayers like they are the same. Sounds fair, only it isn’t. Taxpayers who live in expensive areas like Washington, D.C., New York or much of California might earn more money but only because the cost of living is so high in those areas. They get bypassed by Obama’s quest to “put money in the pockets of the American people.”


A lot of those pockets are left empty. What’s amazing is the federal government treats its own employees differently. Federal employees get locality pay. If they work in areas that are pricier than normal, they can earn up to 35 percent more than the base rate. According to an explanation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “the locality adjustment is intended to reduce the differential between non-Federal and Federal pay.” Otherwise, no qualified employees would take jobs in the top markets.


The lowest grade of federal worker earns $17,540 a year. But adjust that for living in New York, and that salary becomes $22,444 or 28 percent higher. But Obama-nomics wouldn’t leave those taxpayers in the lurch. So let’s look at someone who just barely slips in under the cap – a GS 12 worker earning $73,236. Not poor by any means, but even Obama doesn’t consider that wealthy enough to exclude.


Now look at that same worker right in the nation’s capital. There he or she would earn $90,154 – 23 percent more than in the heartland. In New York, that salary jumps to $93,713 and to $98,393 in San Francisco.


Suddenly those wealthy folks who aren’t getting that tax break don’t seem so wealthy at all. It’s even worse if you live in New York. You can take the isle Manhattan, but according to a new study from the Center for an Urban Future, doing so will cost you a bundle. It’s “by far the most expensive urban area in the country, with a cost of living that’s more than twice the national average and far ahead of any other city,” said the study.


What that means is $50,000 in Houston equals $123,322 in Manhattan “to live at the same level of comfort,” according to ACCRA’s Cost of Living Calculator. That hits every aspect of spending. “Someone moving from Houston to Manhattan would pay 68 percent more for groceries, 447 percent more for housing, 54 percent more for utilities, 22 percent more for transportation and 38 percent more for health care.”


For workers at the bottom of the scale, any break is good. But this break is a bad one for many who are exactly the ones Obama claims to be helping.


The stupidity doesn’t stop there. (It seldom does in Washington.) The Times explained that “the bill also spares millions of middle-income Americans from the alternative minimum tax in 2009, raising the exemption to $46,700 for individuals and $70,950 for couples.”


Based on the previous math, it’s pretty obvious those individuals are even worse off than the ones Obama is already taking for a ride. The salary for individuals would equal a six-figure income in Manhattan. Then again, those are just greedy rich people if you believe the left.


But thanks to the speed and stupidity of the stimulus plan, no one even raised the tax consequences of ripping off the pseudo-wealthy. Those who do get the micro-payment get to enjoy their $1.54 every business day through 2010. Six quarters and four pennies. Maybe that’s what Obama meant by “change.”


Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Fellow and Vice President of the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute. His column appears each week on The Fox Forum and he can be seen each Thursday from 9-10:30 on Foxnews.com’s “Strategy Room.”