Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Today is officially recognized as tax day, in that today is the day that most people will observe as the deadline for filing their annual income tax forms. I do not respect this holiday, as I have no respect for deadlines when two extension periods are so easily granted. If you doubt my lack of respect for deadlines, you should have a talk with Janice the next time you’re in downtown Dublin. She’ll be at the newspaper office, anxiously awaiting an email from me while telling the folks ready to crank up the printing press that they can get busy once Atlanta decides to wake up.
Janice is much too kind of a topic to talk about on a day known as tax day, so we’ll quickly change the subject into much more typical fare for a political column. This year, “tax day” – grossly misnamed because for most of us tax day is every time we receive a pay stub that indicates withholdings – is also “tax freedom day” – the day that marks how much of the year we have to work to pay our taxes, indicating what we make for the rest of the year is finally ours to keep.
This also happens to fall on the day after the U.S. Senate failed to pass the “Buffet Rule”, a bill designed to increase taxes on the wealthy despite the Congressional Budget Office saying that the new taxes would not actually bring in much if any new revenue. Nonetheless, you will see those on the left decry the fact that the federal budget is not balanced because Republicans refused to raise a few billion in soak the rich fees, ignoring the fact that the deficit is in trillions. Confiscating 100% of the income of the wealthiest one percent would not even balance the budget, but that likely won’t make many stories today either.
Clearly each side has their talking points set for today. And thus the public debate on our national tax policy will continue to be one full of obfuscation and demagoguery but clearly lacking substance.
The numbers are fairly simple, even if the solutions are not. From 1930 to 1970, American’s total tax burden increased from 12% of income to 30% of income as government assumed a more prominent role in most of our lives. The New Deal and Great Society programs had a lot to do with this increase.
Since 1970, our tax burden as a percentage of our income has remained fairly steady, through Republican and Democratic Presidents and Congresses. 2011’s burden was calculated by the Tax Foundation at 27.7%.
Despite tinkering with rates constantly as each President has tried to alternatively cut taxes or increase them, our various governments at the national, state, and local levels have taken almost the same percent of our personal incomes for the past 40 years.
What has changed, and changed rather significantly, is our spending. And over the past 40 years – much longer, actually – we have demonstrated that spending is a bi-partisan problem.
Republicans like to point to those New Deal and Great Society programs and talk about trust funds nearing insolvency. Given the chance to quickly pass payroll tax cuts the past two years, most eagerly jumped on board, all the while saying these programs must still be protected. They should be, but no one seems to genuinely care how they will be paid for.
Democrats, meanwhile, have yet to offer any substantive changes to Social Security or Medicare programs, despite the fact that these along with Veterans Administration benefits and payments on the national debt account for all tax revenues we currently take in. They continue to sell the provably untrue notion that if other people – pronounced “rich people” – would just pay their “fair share” then the problems would be solved.
The fact of the matter is that neither side of this debate is willing to level with the American people and tell us that we want more from our government than we are willing to pay for, and choices must be made. We’re going to have to spend less. We’re going to have to figure out how to increase revenues. That’s the cold, hard math behind this problem.
As a people, we don’t like math. It’s hard, kind of like deadlines. And we’re rapidly approaching missing the one to fix this fiscal policy impossibility.