Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Does Anyone Only Pay Federal Taxes?

Mark Thoma treats us to an important analysis from Citizens for Tax Justice with hat tip to Catherine Rampell who writes:

Data released last week by the Congressional Budget Office underscored the progressive nature of the federal tax system. And in an op-ed article today in The Wall Street Journal, Ari Fleischer, who served as President George W. Bush’s press secretary, used that data — in particular, the income tax numbers — to argue that the wealthiest Americans bear an unfair share of the tax burden. Other research has found that many states and local governments have more regressive tax systems, though, that might offset the progressiveness of federal tax rates.

Ari Fleischer is not the only member of George W. Bush’s Administration to argue that the tax system is highly progressive by presenting only Federal taxes paid as if you and don’t pay state and local taxes too. Greg Mankiw has highlighted the CBO data on Federal taxes many times.

While I think this is an incredibly silly exercise, Mark got this comment from cynicalone:

Can you please explain how this rebuts the CBO. The CBO looked at the effective average federal tax rates. This throws in state and local taxes and you somehow imply that this proves federal taxes are not progressive. If you believe that your state and local taxes are not progressive enough then go complain to the state legislature or your local council. This has nothing to do with the progressivity of federal taxes and certainly has no bearing on the CBO report. The entire argument is disingenous. i.e. I don't like this CBO report so I am going to include some completely irrelevant data until I get the outcome I desire.

While we should tell cynicalone that his argument is disingenuous, we hear this a lot from certain conservatives. The problem with this argument is that we citizens really don’t care which government services we get from Washington versus which ones we get locally (in my case, New York City and Albany, New York). We also pay more attention to our total tax bill rather than where we end up sending the various checks. Besides, the Federal government has this habit of mandating that the local governments do certain things and only often only partially fund these mandates. To slice and dice tax obligations in the fashion that Ari Fleischer et al. do is either just or dishonest in my opinion.

Besides – a lot of Federal taxation was deferred under the previous Administration. Who will pay those deferred taxes? It seems that the past White House wanted to claim no one had to. Now that was very dishonest.


Frankthesalesforecaster said...

Gosh, the income cut-off for ss tax has risen to $100k and ss tax has risen to the single largest hh budget item (ss tax is consumption for GDP purposes.) Fed taxes are not very progressive when you include ss tax, and households see ss as part and parcel of fed taxes. The EIC makes the ss tax less regressive, but there is no more highly taxed dollar of income than the last dollar before the ss income cut-off. I would argue that the majority of the social benefit generated by fed spending go to corp's and high networth hh's.

Bruce Webb said...

This is particularly egregious in that the same conservatives bleating about how only they pay taxes are now insisting that for budget priority purposes the interest on the SS Trust Funds should not be treated as real income to Social Security.

AEI in the form of Kevin Hassett (in an argument in Bloomberg) and Andrew Biggs (quoted in an article by stenographer Lori Montgomery in the WaPo last week) insist that Social Security 'surplus' disappeared in February even though on an annualized basis the Trust Funds increased by $8-9 billion that month. And this even though right on half of the current Trust Fund balance was the result of a $trillion plus in cash borrowings along with accrued interest that scores as income for Unified Budget calculations. In effect they suggest treating excess contributions to SS since 1983 as an interest free loan whose repayment can be delayed indefinitely by cutting benefits.

Man if they are just going to steal workers' money as a permanent supplement to the General Fund the least they can do is credit those workers for the excess taxes paid.

People exaggerate the actual contribution Social Security has made to fund General Fund obligations over the years, it actually peaked at around 5%. But still it adds up to over a trillion bucks or about $3000 per American since 1983. To claim that lower income workers don't pay taxes is in light of that figure is just dishonest.

Bruce Webb said...

Plus you could and probably should make the argument that the Disability component of Social Security would be better treated as a Public Good that could and should be seen as a governmental function. If Social Security DI didn't exist the Feds or States would have to replace it somehow. Instead wage workers have been required to take on that societal burden entirely out of their wages with no offsetting demands on capital.

Run a factory in a way that causes an employee to become disabled? Pay a fine to OSHA and then hand the bill for lifetime subsistence for that worker over to wage workers generally. Well THAT sounds fair.

Anonymous said...

New Hampshire has no income or general sales tax.

However, be careful owning real estate as the assessments are based on 2006 and the mill rates are pretty high.

Also, they soak tourists so do not stay in hotels or eat un restaurants.

Come and ski!!!!

TheTrucker said...

The best tax system is a flat rate asset tax system with a very high rate for land values and a much lower rate for other assets. The Federal Government is in the business of protecting property rights and I see no reason why the property owners shouldn't foot the bill for all of the military and all of the property rights enforcements.

Then we should have a rational system of excise taxation in support of social insurance. I wrote the original of this more than 10 years ago. I haven't seen any good reason to change it.

Shag from Brookline said...

Trucker says:

"The best tax system is a flat rate asset tax system with a very high rate for land values and a much lower rate for other assets."

Going back to the 1960s, I was general counsel to a MA corporation as well as a director. The board of directors included two professors from Harvard Business School. One of them proposed heavy taxes on undeveloped (or underdeveloped) land to encourage development. I'm still in the process of reading "Prosperity Without Growth?" (thanks for ruining April for me, Sandwichman!) and wonder whether Trucker shares the "forced" development of land by imposing heavy taxes.