Monday, April 12, 1999

Week of 04/12/1999

Tax Talk - 1999 Style
All Taxes, Very Little Talk About Them
- by David Matthews 2

Well folks, this week is tax week, that time of year when every good little American is expected to have filled out their 1040 forms and have them in the mail. If you haven’t done so by midnight on April 15th, the IRS decides you aren’t a good little American, and they demand more money.

So every year the media is inundated with all the talk about taxes. How much we are paying, what are we paying them for, whether or not we’re paying too much, and - in the case of the liberals - who is not paying "their fair share." And every year there is talk about wanting to "fix" the system. We toss about terms like "national retail sales tax" and "flat tax" and "tax cuts," and if we’re lucky, Congress decides to spend some time to go over what they consider to be "tax relief" for Americans. We’re promised "streamlined forms" and fewer deductions for the mythological villains known as "the rich," and - most importantly - to be given "tax relief."

Of course, every year when Congress and the White House make such grandiose promises, they end up making the tax forms more complicated, the tax laws even more convoluted, grant more deductions for corporations, and .. if we’re really lucky .. offer up IOUs in the form of "tax credits," which only apply to a certain segment of the population. This is what the politicians call "tax relief."

But this year something is different. There is very little talk about offering "tax relief." There is no focus on people paying too much in taxes. There is no talk about changing the tax system, scrapping the Internal Revenue System, repealing the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, or anything like that!

Of course, one could say that this isn’t an election year, so there would be no political reason for the talking heads and the politicians to start their song and dance about taxes. However, this year we already have a group of politicians who have aspirations for the presidency in the 2000 elections. Aside from Steve Forbes, who has pushed his flat tax idea to the side in order to appease the Christian Coalition and their social agenda, no other possible contender is saying two words about how the American public is paying too much in taxes.

We can always point to the economy. After all, Clinton does.. often. The economy is good, he keeps on saying, so don’t rock the boat. Never mind that the bulk of the corporate layoffs already announced for 1999 haven’t taken effect yet. Never mind that the economy is riding so high on a Wall Street crest that it’s like surfing on the front wave of a tsunami. Hong Kong and Tokyo did the same thing, and the impact of their wipeouts could be felt around the world. Yes, we’re making more money than we ever did before, but what isn’t being told is that we are having a hard time saving that money. Yes, we have more jobs than before, but what is not being told is that people are having to work two or three jobs just to make those ends meet. With almost half of our salaries going to pay for federal, state, and local taxes, you don’t have to imagine the reasons why.

Then again, we are in the midst of Clinton’s new war - the war for his legacy. Franklin Roosevelt is known for telling people to speak softly and carry a big stick. Well, Bill Clinton can’t speak softly, but he certainly knows how to wield the big stick of government, doesn’t he? And wield it he does, across Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, and most importantly against his own American people. And while his use of the military is being felt all over Kosovo and Serbia right now, at least the people of that region know that some day the planes and missiles will go away. To Clinton’s own people, he lets get ravaged endlessly by lawyers, regulators, and federal agencies drunk on power and eager to use it like Eric Cartman with a nightstick.

But getting back to Kosovo.. well, previous to this attack, Bill Clinton was under pressure from the Republican members of Congress for a tax cut. After all, Clinton said we were in a budget surplus. No more deficit spending. Clinton, however, has about as much faith in us as taxpayers as we do about his marital fidelity. He has even gone as far as telling the American public that we can’t be trusted with our own money! Still, the GOP has been persistent about returning at least some of that excess money to the taxpayers. Then along comes Slobodan Milosevic and his band of ethnic thugs causing trouble in Kosovo.. and we’re right back into yet another war.

You know it costs money to run a war, even if it is a "safe" air campaign. That’s why we waged a Cold War against the former Soviet Union for forty years. That’s why, once the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union was no more, we were eager to get into ANY kind of conflict. Now we’re in a new "war" and we need to fund it. Guess where that money will come from? So much for the budget "surplus!"

Let’s get brutally honest here.. the politicians don’t want to fix the tax system! Why should they? This modern day version of the Pythagorean Knot serves as an all-purpose political tool. When politicians want to seduce corporations to set up shop in their district, they can grant a tax break to sweeten the deal. When the public complain about the economy, the politicians can look like angels by offering tax credits that they fraudulently call a tax cut. And by setting up various levels of tax brackets, the politicians can look like they’re "penalizing" the rich for making money, even though in truth all they’re hurting the most are the very middle-class Americans that they claim to serve.

Then there are all the businesses that benefit from the current tax system. Everyone from H&R Block down to the little tax preparation business run by your next door neighbor just after the holidays benefit from all the changes in the tax system. Think of all the certified public accountants who would be put out of a job if the tax system was simplified! A whole segment of the economy is dependant on the tax system being as confusing and as complicated as possible.

We aren’t talking too much about taxes this year, at least on a national level, but next year may be a different story. The economy is too unstable to comfortably say that the good times will keep on coming. Clinton’s war for his legacy as the "Big Babysitter" for the world could very well be his Vietnam, costing us lives and billions of dollars in new military spending. We’re working more jobs, even longer hours, and sacrificing much in the name of paying bills.. and paying taxes.

Why should we wait for foul times to pressure our politicians to change this monstrosity we call a tax system? More than anything, it is when the times are good that we should be looking at trying to fix the system, so that when times are bad they won’t hurt as much.

Perhaps the best way to let the politicians know we are serious about taxes would be to have the primary elections held on Tax Day. Never mind trying to establish which state should be the "first" for primaries.. have them all at once, on one day - April 15th - just like they do with the national elections. That way people will be reminded to not only pay their taxes, but to also voice their displeasure at the tax system they reluctantly have to comply with.

One final thought as we close out Tax Week: Let’s abandon now the notion that paying taxes is somehow "voluntary." There is no such thing as a voluntary choice when it comes to paying taxes! Either you pay or you go to jail and your money is taken by force. There is no free will involved with government. There is truth in the pronouncement President George Washington made when he said that "government is not reason.. it is not eloquence.. it is force." So let’s knock off the Clinton-like soft language and dispel the notion now that paying taxes is a voluntary thing.

Sufficient to say, we all don’t like paying taxes. That’s money coming out of our pockets, and often it is used for services or programs we would otherwise let fall by the wayside. But while we must accept the reality that we will have to pay taxes to support our government, that should not give the government the right to take whatever it wants on the pretense that it knows best. That kind of blind arrogance is the very thing that start conflicts, not stop them.

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