Taxpayers are familiar with the annual drill. Keeping records, gathering receipts, filling out forms, figuring out changes in tax rules. Right around this time, taxpayers are ready to see April 15 disappear into the rearview mirror.
The IRS estimates it takes average taxpayers 13 hours to comply with the federal tax code. Americans annually spend more than $168 billion and collectively clock in 6 billion hours to settle up their tab with Uncle Sam, according to the 2012 annual report by the National Taxpayer Advocate.
This year, Tax Day turns 100. Congress assigned an annual Tax Day after the 16th amendment was ratified on Feb. 3, 1913. Nine months later, the Revenue Act of 1913 established a one percent bottom marginal rate on income graduating to a top marginal rate of seven percent. Something tells me taxpayers today wish their federal tax tab was calculated by those brackets instead of the seven marginal rates under current law, ranging from 10 percent to 39.6 percent of adjusted gross income.
Today, the tax code is too complicated and a drag on economic growth.
As tax filing season winds down, it’s a safe bet that few taxpayers have dug into the details of the president’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal. That must be what the White House was banking on when it proposed jacking up tax revenue by $1.3 trillion over the next decade.
Taxpayers already pay enough to shoulder the costs of the government. In fact, the Affordable Care Act will raise taxes more than $700 billion over the next decade. From a dollars and cents perspective, a persistent Potomac paradox makes no common sense. No matter how much money flows out of taxpayers’ pockets into the federal treasury, it’s never enough for big spenders. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported federal 2013 tax receipts reached an all-time high $2.7 trillion. Uncle Sam spent $3.45 trillion, creating a $680 billion deficit. And still, the President wants the taxpaying public to pay more instead of asking Washington to spend less.
Let’s get things straight. Washington didn’t rack up a $17 trillion national debt because Washington taxes too little; it’s because Washington spends too much. According to the CBO, the percentage of debt held by the public is now about 73 percent of the nation’s economic output.
The deeper Uncle Sam dips into taxpayers’ pockets, the harder it is for America’s start-ups, entrepreneurs and businesses to grow, hire, invest, innovate, raise wages and increase productivity. The bigger-is-better government approach guts the bedrock principle of limited government from which America was founded upon, including individual liberty, free enterprise and property rights.
The federal tax collection agency is riddled with problems of its own. The IRS is challenged to restore credibility for targeting taxpayers based on their political views and for wasting tens of millions of tax dollars on lavish conferences. On top of that, it’s been handed an expansive new role to enforce 45 new provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including verifying eligibility for insurer subsidies.
What’s more, the IRS struggles to narrow the $385 billion tax gap, uphold basic services to taxpayers and update its IT systems. The IRS’ perennial plea for more funding doesn’t square with the taxpaying public, especially when the agency fails to answer 61 percent of taxpayer phone calls seeking assistance and yet has room in its budget for generous employee bonuses.
At the turn of the 20th century, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said, “taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.” Taxes do fund the basic, necessary functions of government, like national security, but big spenders like to use this statement as a license to lift the lid on taxes and spending. However, in the century since Justice Holmes made that observation, the growth of entitlements, the size of the national debt and the scope of government programs have shifted an unsustainable tax burden to future generations.
Between 1930 and 2013, federal government receipts increased from 4.1 percent of the economy’s output to 16.7 percent, and federal expenditures rose from 3.4 percent of economic output to about 21 percent, according to historical data released by the Office of Management and Budget. The Congressional Budget Office expects revenue to reach 19 percent of the Gross Domestic Product by 2018. Current receipts are relatively low because of the economy.
Through regulation of private enterprise, burdensome levels of taxation and intrusive transfers of wealth that benefits some at the expense of others, it’s clear that big spenders define a civilized society as the bigger the government, the better.
Tax Day 2014 reminds us of that Potomac tax-and-spend paradox. Nearly two decades into the 21st century, policymakers must work together for the public good and take a civilized approach to taxation and regulation. Bloated bureaucracies, unsustainable entitlement spending and regulatory overkill are taking us down a dangerous road.
And taxpayers know that leads to trouble with a capital T.