Our Opinion: Tax cuts benefit BB&T bosses and Wilson workforce

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Many scoffed when President Donald Trump touted his tax cuts as a Christmas present for the nation. But for hundreds of Wilson County workers, the promise of more green under the tree rang true.

Winston-Salerm-based BB&T, the country’s 11th-largest bank by assets, announced Dec. 22 it would invest $152 million in anticipated benefits from the tax reform bill into boosting entry-level pay, surprising about 27,000 workers with a one-time $1,200 bonus and donating an eye-popping $100 million to the bank’s philanthropic fund.

The minimum pay rate for BB&T workers rose from $12 an hour to $15 an hour on New Year’s Day. That gives front-line employees a boost in their paychecks, and helps BB&T compete with industry peers — Bank of America and Wells Fargo raised their minimum wage to $15 last year.

“By far and away, our associates are our most important asset. They’re the biggest reason we’re able to serve our clients each and every day in an extraordinary way,” BB&T Chairman and CEO Kelly S. King said in a news release. “They’ve worked so hard, especially over the last few years, to position BB&T for continued success. So, I’m delighted to reward them for all of their hard work and dedication.”

The nine-figure investment — that’s a tenth of a billion dollars — will support charities in the communities BB&T serves through its Lighthouse Project and other programs. Wilson, the bank’s birthplace and the home of its information technology hub, is likely to see a direct benefit.

Founded as Branch and Hadley in 1872, the consumer bank was headquartered in Wilson until a 1994 merger with Winston-Salem based Southern National Bank moved its corporate office 150 miles west. But BB&T maintains a strong presence here.

The bank is Wilson County’s largest private employer with a workforce nearly 2,000 strong. It’s also the eighth-biggest employer in the state, according to N.C. Department of Commerce figures.

Through its Lighthouse Project, BB&T and its employees have supported the Wilson Police Athletics and Activities League, The Arc of Wilson, the Chamber of Commerce’s Dynamic Leadership Wilson program, Wilson 360, the Wesley Shelter, the Wilson Crisis Center, Wilson County Schools’ Operation Backpack, the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club, the Arts Council of Wilson, Imagination Station, Veterans Residential Services of Wilson and Hope Station — and that was just in 2017.

“BB&T’s mission is to make the world a better place to live, so it makes perfect sense to share these benefits and continue making a positive difference in the communities we serve. We’re pleased this legislation makes that possible,” King, the bank’s CEO, said in his statement.

Opponents of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which Congress passed Dec. 20 and Trump signed into law Dec. 22, have been quick to cry class warfare, predicting companies would use money they no longer have to send Uncle Sam to pad their savings and pay out shareholders. Leaving aside the middle-class tax cuts that are part and parcel of the bill, those fears don’t seem to be grounded in reality.

BB&T wasn’t the only business to share the wealth. AT&T, Fifth-Third Bank, Wells Fargo, Boeing and Comcast have all said bonuses, pay hikes, employee training programs and other benefits would flow from the reduction in corporate tax.

Opinion on the tax cuts’ prudence and necessity is split along party lines, with most Republicans cheering the dollars that will stay in taxpayers’ pockets and most Democrats calling the legislation a boon for the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

We said the tax reform bill is imperfect, but a good start toward a fairer, leaner and simpler tax structure. Pitting business’ interests against families’ presumes a false choice — this was never an either/or question, because the bill delivers both/and savings.

Reducing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent is clearly a huge benefit to big business. Early indications are promising that many of those businesses will use the savings to create jobs, invest in their workforce and pitch in to help local communities.

BB&T’s King said the tax cuts will promote “a robust economy and higher employment rates” which he called “the best conditions for individual opportunity and the pursuit of happiness.”

Wilsonians can side with politicians who predictably oppose everything Trump signs, probably up to and including his family’s greeting cards, or they can listen to the job creator who employs hundreds of their neighbors and whose bank invests millions in making Wilson a better place.