Mitt Romney’s comments about those who do not pay income taxes appeared to harden the views Georgians already hold about the Republican presidential nominee, both positive and negative.
Tim Brown, 45, a Carrollton Republican, said he was pleased with what Romney said.
“The only thing that is news about this is that a politician had the chutzpah to speak the truth. We have become a society that is constantly searching ways to claim victimization,” Brown said.
Atlanta Democratic U.S. Rep. John Lewis said Romney’s remark “says something about values. It says something about faith and trust and ability and capacity. … It’s almost like disdain, dissing a whole segment of the population, saying: ‘I don’t care about you. You are already gone.’ ”
Video of Romney’s comments to a $50,000-per-plate dinner in May were posted online by the liberal magazine Mother Jones. He spoke of the 47 percent of Americans who pay no net income taxes, saying those voters back President Barack Obama and “believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. … My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Conservatives have cited the fact that about half of Americans do not pay net income taxes to decry the welfare state.
But the statistic doesn’t tell the full story, said Alan Essig, executive director of the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank.
“The vast majority of those not paying income tax are elderly, disabled or students, or very low-income,” he said. “Most of that population has paid income tax in the past and many of them will be paying income tax again.”
A July 2011 analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found 44 percent of those who do not pay income taxes got tax breaks for the elderly on such things as Social Security benefits. Another 30 percent used tax credits for children and the working poor such as the child tax credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Georgia closely mirrors the national trend. A 2010 study by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation found that 41 percent of Georgians don’t pay income taxes, the second highest percentage in the country, behind Mississippi. The foundation found higher percentages in states that tend to vote Republican.
Essig said the statistic is “misleading” because those people very likely pay other taxes, such as Social Security, payroll or sales taxes.
As the controversy continued Tuesday, when Mother Jones released the full Romney video, some conservatives denounced the attention the comments received.
“Democrats and the liberal media are distorting the true intentions of Governor Romney’s comments and instead are using this story as a diversion tactic to steer voters away from the truth,” Athens Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Broun said in a prepared statement. “There’s a reason why President Obama isn’t campaigning on his accomplishments: Democrats and liberals are doing everything they can to keep his failures out of the spotlight.”
Jessica Zarter, 28, of East Cobb said she plans to vote for Romney but has grown frustrated with his verbal stumbles.
“Was it smart for Romney to voice his opinion aloud? No!” Zarter said. “He should be told exactly what to say and when to say it until he is in office. He shouldn’t open his mouth without it being censored by 100 people first.”
Georgia Democrats pounced.
“I work hard, pay lots of taxes, get no government assistance and I’m fully behind the president,” Lester Tate, 51, of Cartersville, said. “So, on the one hand I resent Romney’s comments. On the other hand a speech from Mitt Romney these days is about as likely to help the president get re-elected as one from Bill Clinton.”
Reaction from self-identified independent voters was divided.
Brandt Ross, 75, of Atlanta, said Romney “spoke the truth.
“It’s important that everybody understands that we’re becoming a nation, sadly, of subsidizing an awful lot of people,” said Ross, who plans to vote for Romney.
Perry Treadwell, 80, of Decatur, also considers himself an independent. He said his decision to vote for Obama, and his view of Romney “as a twit” were already set long before the recent video surfaced.