Tuesday, November 7, 2017

$250 for Stripping

Among the many attempts to "simplify" the tax code, the GOP included the removal of the ever-popular $250 teacher deduction that allows teachers to claim a tax advantage for some sliver of what they spend on their own classrooms.

There is some disagreement about how much some teachers spend. The $1,000 figure is tossed around a lot, but nobody seems to know what the actual basis for that number is. Others use a more conservative $500. Certainly the amount varies by teacher. I buy class sets of books (used) that I want to teach in my high school classroom; it's not terribly expensive. On the other hand, my wife, the elementary teacher, spends roughly sixty gazillion dollars on her classroom.

This has sparked a fair amount of debate and defense of the teacher deduction, and it may well survive the upcoming ongoing raging tax-related debate.

But the whole business has reminded me of stripping.

Back fifteen-or-so years ago, I was a local teacher union president and we were in the midst of contentious contract negotiations (so contentious they eventually resulted in a strike). And those negotiations introduced me to the negotiating tactic of stripping.

Here's how it works. My side is asking for extended lunch and better parking. The other side proposes that they chop off our arms and our legs. So we negotiate. We agree to lunch that's the same length, and we agree to buy parking permits from the main office, and they agree only to chop off one of our arms. See? It's a negotiation, a compromise. We give up something and -- hey, wait a minute! They actually gave up nothing! Dammit-- I hope they chop off my non-dominant arm so I can still write an angry letter.

That's how stripping works in a negotiation. The other side proposing to strip away things you already have, and you end up giving ground on your side and in return, they let you keep some of what you already had.

That is why, for instance, some states (like Pennsylvania) have been toying with removing state mandates for teacher sick day allowances. Teachers may well end up with the same amount of sick leave, but they'll have to give up something in local contract negotiations to get it.

So look for the moment in the tax debates when the GOP says, "Well, we would like to be nice guys and give that $250 deduction , or maybe half of it, back, but we'll have to get a concession from somewhere else." (Spoiler alert: "somewhere else" will not turn out to be "taxing rich people or corporations").We may well get that $250 back if for no other reason than it's a cheap bargaining chip for the GOP. But if we get it back, it will cost us.

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