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Does Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan add up?

By Kay Bell ·
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Posted: 11 am ET

Who here ordered a new U.S. tax system? You? Great. Here you go. That'll be 9-9-9. And don't worry about tipping your delivery blogger.

Actually, 9-9-9 isn't the price of the tax reform plan offered by Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain. It's the name of his proposed solution to our convoluted tax system.

Cain wants to scrap the current federal tax code and replace it with a 9 percent national sales tax, a 9 percent individual income tax rate and a 9 percent corporate income tax rate.

But can Cain and his tax plan really deliver?

Americans have a strong love-hate relationship with the Internal Revenue Code. We love the provisions, regardless of how complicated they are, that provide us personal tax breaks. And we hate the rest of the tax laws that benefit others.

That's why, despite the loud cries for tax simplification, the tax code keeps growing each year. Once a tax break makes it into law, it's very difficult to erase it. And once someone else gets a benefit, another group raises Cain, so to speak, to get their own tax benefit.

But you've got to give the former Godfather's Pizza executive props for trying.

And it's already been a winner on one level. Cain's tax plan has raised awareness of his presidential quest enough to vault him into first place among GOP candidates in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, slightly ahead of former frontrunner Mitt Romney.

Of course, part of the reason folks like the Cain 9-9-9 plan so much is that it's (a) new and (b) short on details.

After an unspecified time of the flat 9 percent individual and corporate tax rates, Cain would then transition his system to the FairTax.

This tax plan was suggested by the group Americans For Fair Taxation. It has been around for 20 or so years. Under it, all income, estate, capital gains and payroll taxes would be abolished and replaced with a flat sales tax on all goods and services.

FairTax advocates say the rate would be 23 percent. Others say it would be closer to 30 percent. And a presidentially appointed panel that looked into tax reform in 2005 determined that a national sales tax would have to be set at 34 percent to produce the same income (back then) as the current system.

Let's stop right here.

Cain says his system is simple. But he wants to redo the current U.S. taxation method twice, first with his triple nines plan and then by scrapping that to go to the FairTax. That's seems rather complicated to me.

And we've not even addressed the $800 billion a year for Social Security that would disappear when the payroll tax goes.

As for the FairTax, it really isn't. A sales tax is the most regressive form of taxation around. A regressive tax is one that poses a greater burden relative to a consumer's resources. And a sales tax at any rate costs poorer consumers more than it does wealthier individuals.

Cain has said that his FairTax will include a form of rebates for low-income residents. But again, he's not offered any specifics. And again, setting up such a system will start adding complexity to his supposedly simpler tax system.

And don't forget that the national sales tax at any rate would be on top of state sales taxes.

So enjoy the attention, Mr. Cain, that the public loves to give shiny new (or seemingly new) ideas put forth by novice political candidates. But don't expect your 9-9-9 plan to add up to real tax reform.

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Bern Kluczy
November 30, 2011 at 6:00 pm

I have not been able to subscribe to your site. When I click on
the phrase highlighted "Weekly Tax Tip" the screen shows,"Unable to Connect".
Please advise. BK

John Salan
October 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm

The tax system needs to be simplified. This is the first step in the right direction although it is not perfect.

October 17, 2011 at 3:38 pm

@Steve Hamilton,
You have no retirement other than SS, and you claim that a man who has turned around multiple companies as a CEO is "a hip shooter" who "can't analyze complex problems"???

Look in the mirror. Your incredible analytical abilities have landed you where you are, "barely getting by...after a 50-year career".

If that's your resume, I don't think anyone needs your advice.