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Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
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Frank Bernheisel
Posted 04.18.11
Just Outside Washington

FRANK BERNHEISEL

Just WHO is paying US income taxes?

It has been the week for taxes. Our stuff is complicated what with Kathy's consulting, two home offices, business expenses, various 1099s and K-1s, and the usual deductions. I really appreciate Turbotax, which makes the entire proceeding much easier.

This year we are abandoning my spreadsheets and going to Quicken to track our expenses. Working on taxes while the debate about Paul Ryan's budget plan swirled around Washington like one big fog was surreal.

The plan is bold! It is serious! It took courage! It re-frames the debate! The ball is in Obama's court! Very wonky! It is a game-changer! Did I mention it is serious? The math demands it! We need to have shared sacrifice! This puts us on the right course! It's serious and bold!

The pundits are out of touch; the plan is not new or bold. In 2008 Paul Ryan made almost the same proposal. If Ryan were serious he would have looked at both sides of the ledger: expenditures and income but Ryan only looked at cuts. Not only that in health care the cuts amount to a two-part plan to KILL GRANNY:

  • Freeze Medicaid and give the money to states as block grants, with no coverage requirement. If you want to know where that money will go, look at the Tobacco Settlement money.

  • Limit Medicare to a defined and capped sum of money that beneficiaries spend in the private insurance market. If you need more care, pay for it yourself and good luck.
On the income side, I am thinking: who, besides us, are paying taxes to the federal government?

According to the Tax Foundation, in 2008 142 million federal income tax returns were filed. Of those 51.6 million or 36.3 percent paid no taxes. This percentage has been going up every year since 2002.

And I am sure these numbers do not include people running illegal businesses, drugs, numbers, etc. The President's commission on the budget (Simpson-Bowles) issued its report in December and it has both general and specific recommendations. Several that I agree with are below and the ones that hurt Kathy and me are indicated (Ouch):

  • Raise the gas tax by 15 cents per gallon to fully fund the transportation Trust Fund (Ouch).

  • Reduce pay of Congress by 15 percent and freeze for three years (last year Congress gave itself a 4 percent increase.

  • Keep the progressive personal income tax but reduce the top rate to 29 percent or below.

  • Capital gains and dividends taxed as normal income (Ouch).

  • Reduce mortgage deduction to $500,000; no second homes and no equity lines (Ouch).

  • Cap the exclusion of employer supplied health care from income (Ouch).

  • Establish a single corporate tax rate at 29 percent or below.

  • Eliminate all corporate tax subsidies -- credits and other tax expenditures.
To these I would add, repeal the Bush tax cuts and institute a national sales or value-added tax. I would love to continue the discussion but I need to go file my taxes and send the Treasury a check.
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