Rather than soaking the elusive rich, let's reduce the tax burden on everyone

Posted: Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What should we do about ending those Bush tax cuts? As you may have heard, those are the tax cuts that let the rich get away without paying their fair share of federal income taxes and force the middle class to carry the burden of paying for the costs of government in Washington.

I'm sure you all know that under our progressive tax system the more money you make, the higher the income tax rates you have to pay. So, the poor pay very little in income taxes.

In fact, according to the IRS statistics for 2007, the bottom half of taxpayers paid 2.89 percent of all federal income taxes collected. If your adjusted gross income in 2007 was $32,879, you were in the bottom half.

That means, of course, that 97 percent of the federal income tax burden fell upon the upper half of taxpayers. Those are the wealthy people making over $32,879. This is the wealthy half of the population that the politicians look to when they want to tax somebody.

Well, actually what they say is that they aren't going to tax the poor because the poor barely make enough money to feed their kids and have nothing left to pay taxes. And they don't want to increase the tax burden on the middle class; those hard-working men and women who are struggling to pay the mortgage and educate their kids. They want to make the rich pay their fair share. You've heard that speech before.

So, who has an income that will enable them to help pay more? Well, $66,532 doesn't sound like a rich person but 75 percent of taxpayers reported an AGI less than $66,532. And they don't pay much in taxes. The bottom 75 percent paid 13.41 percent of all income taxes.

Remember that the politicians don't want to increase taxes on the middle class. So let's take them out. Let's say that an income between $66,532 and $113,018 is a middle-class income and we'll just increase taxes on those who make more than that. Ninety percent of taxpayers make less than $113,018.

It's starting to seem like there aren't very many of those rich folks left to tax. And the top 10 percent is already paying 71.22 percent of all federal income taxes. If you are in the top 10 percent, you are the target of those tax-and-spend politicians.

When do we really get to "soak the rich"? If your income was over $160,041, you made it to the top 5 percent and paid 60.63 percent of all federal income taxes. Think about that for a minute. The top 5 percent of taxpayers paid a greater percentage of all federal income taxes - 60.63 percent - than the bottom 90 percent who paid 28.78 percent.

Where are the really rich? At $410,096 you made it to the top 1 percent. Are they paying their fair share? The top 1 percent paid 40.42 percent of all federal income taxes; more than the bottom 95 percent who paid 39.37 percent.

Where are all those millionaires? How much do they pay? At $2.15 million you made it to the top one-tenth of 1 percent.

The average income for the taxpayers in this group was $7.4 million and the average federal income tax they each paid was $1.6 million. Together this one-tenth of 1 percent of all taxpayers paid 20 percent of all federal income taxes; that's more than the bottom 75 percent paid. If we are going to depend upon these folks to pay for what the government wants to do for us, we're going to need a few more millionaires.

The real problem is not the distribution of the tax burden and the fact that we all want to shift that burden to somebody who makes more than we do. The problem is that the cost of government is too high.

We have to remember that it is us - all of us - who are paying for 100 percent of the cost of government. It is time to stop trying to shift the tax burden to the other guy and start reducing the cost of it for all of us.

• Burke A. Christensen holds the Robert B. Morgan Chair of Insurance Studies at Eastern Kentucky University. Readers may write to him at EKU, 521 Lancaster Avenue, Richmond, Ky. 40475-3102.

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