Question remains: How will GOP tax bill shake out for county programs over long haul?

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The new tax code will save Berkshire County residents hundreds to thousands of dollars — for a while — but the $1.4 trillion federal budget gap the GOP plan creates, over the next 10 years, is expected to force cuts to programs such as Medicare, education and transportation projects.

On Wednesday, Congress passed an overhaul of the U.S. tax code that lowers taxes on corporations and individuals. The code is expected to reduce government revenue by $38 billion in its first year and will decrease direct government spending by 4.4 to 52.4 percent annually over the next five years, according to Congressional Budget Office analysis.

So, the question remains: Will the initial extra money in local wallets, put there via having to pay less in taxes, be enough to offset anticipated service cuts in a county that relies on the assistance?

"Most of the benefit goes to high-income individuals and corporations, and that's going to be paid for with cuts that could, in fact, be things like health care and education and transportation — things that are important in Berkshire County," said Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.

"There is some evidence that the long-term way to build a strong economy is to invest in people," Berger said. "That means education and infrastructure and transportation, and this tax cut makes it harder for the federal government to do that."

Under the GOP tax code, tax savings will be significant for many people in Berkshire County, according to estimates by CalcXML, a Utah-based tech company that creates custom algorithms and calculators. The company has estimate calculators reflecting how the pre- and post-GOP tax code overhaul impacts individual tax bills. Still, researchers and economists are absorbing what is in the plan and anticipate new revelations about the code in the coming weeks.

"I don't know what ended up in the final bill," Nathaniel Karns, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, said Wednesday morning. "But we were worried about them abolishing tax credits for historic preservation, for low-income housing and brownfields that will have a significant impact on the ability to see redevelopment in downtowns and old mill buildings around the county."

For people living on a fixed Social Security income — the median annual income of such a person being $17,626 locally, according to the U.S. census — they will see their tax burden drop to $563 under the new code. It's a savings of $135.

The median income for single people in Berkshire County is $30,689. Someone making this much will see his or her tax bill decrease to $2,052 — a $477 savings.

Overall, the median household income in Berkshire County is $52,253. If this household shelters a married couple with two children, the tax burden for them will fall to $0, for a savings of $1,436.

The median income for a local family is $69,540. Figuring this household is run by a married couple raising two children, their tax bill would fall to $1,084 — a $1,955 windfall.

But these savings are temporary. Unlike corporate tax cuts in the new code, personal cuts are not permanent.

The savings, of course, will come at a price, and the Trump administration has health care in its crosshairs, as evidenced by the new code's elimination of the financial penalty applied to people who do not have health care. Making sure everyone in the nation bought health insurance was the bedrock on which the Affordable Care Act was built. Without the mandate, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 13 million more people will become uninsured and insurance premiums will increase as a result.

Meanwhile, Berkshire County has the second-highest concentration of residents who use Medicare benefits in the state; for every 1,000 residents, 238 are on Medicare. Cuts to health care would be a double whammy for Berkshire County, because it's the area's leading industry, employing more than 17 percent of working residents.

Rural Berkshire County, with its slow-growing economy, limited affordable housing options and a shrinking/aging population, depends more than other areas of the state on government programs that, through his 2018 budget proposal, Trump has vowed to ax or reduce, such as food stamps, Social Security disability insurance, federal pensions, education, agriculture, rural economic development and single-family housing direct loans, and Community Development Block Grants, among other social programs.

"With this harmful bill, Republicans are just getting started," U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement. "Speaker [of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul] Ryan plans to fund these regressive cuts by slashing benefits like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security that Americans have earned through years of hard work. Democrats will fight to protect these programs, and we'll do everything we can to lower families' premiums in the face of President Trump's attacks on healthcare."

Kristin Palpini can be reached at kpalpini@berkshireeagle.com and @kristinpalpini on Twitter.


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