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Everyone should pay some tax

By Kay Bell ·
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Posted: 3 pm ET

Regular blog readers know that one of my favorite tax quotes is from the late Russell Long.

The Democratic lawmaker from Louisiana succinctly encapsulated the American attitude toward taxes: "Don't tax him, don't tax me, tax that man behind the tree."

Some think, however, that we're ready to get out the chainsaws and take down all the trees so everyone will pay some tax.

In the wake of Mitt Romney's characterization of the 47 percent of nontaxpayers as willing dependents on the federal government, the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation has re-released its 2009 poll (conducted by Harris Interactive) on taxpaying responsibilities.

The 3-year-old poll found that two-thirds of adults believed that "everyone should be required to pay some minimum amount of tax to help fund the government."

The issue back then was much the same as today. In 2006, according to the Tax Foundation, 45.6 million Americans (around one-third of all taxpayers) paid no federal income tax after deductions and credits.

After giving poll participants that fact back in 2009, Harris pollsters then asked, "Thinking about your own tax burden, do you think this is fair, or do you feel everyone should be required to pay some minimum amount of tax to help fund government?"

Here are their answers, including results from prior year polls on the same topic:

  2009 2007 2006 2005
Everyone should be required to pay some minimum amount of tax to help fund government Yes, 66% Yes, 61% Yes, 63% Yes, 59%
This is fair 19% 24% 21% 21%
Not sure 15% 15% 16% 20%

The trend, notes the Tax Foundation -- and no doubt Romney supporters -- is that more of us each year believe that everyone should pay at least some tax. I think the cliche phrase is that we all need to have some skin in the game.

This poll, however, is a tad disingenuous, just like the 47 percent figure Romney tossed out to his billionaire colleagues at that now famous/infamous secretly recorded fundraiser.

Of that nontaxpayer group, which was based on 2011 tax data, almost half of them were elderly folks receiving Social Security. In most cases, these government benefits are not taxable. So they shouldn't be considered, as Romney seemed to imply, moochers.

The bulk of the remaining nontaxpayers did work. This is shown by additional Internal Revenue Service data revealing that they paid payroll taxes. But they either didn't make enough money to require that they pay taxes -- remember, not everybody has to file a return -- or they got to the zero tax level by using legitimate tax breaks, just like you and I and even Romney use every filing season.

So the participants in the 2009 Tax Foundation poll should be happy about the 47 percent of nonpayers in 2011.

These folks aren't necessarily the layabouts that Romney's terms and tone indicate. Most are just like you and me and the Republican presidential candidate, working at  our jobs and working within the legal parameters of the tax code to reduce our tax bills.

Romney used tax breaks to get his tax rate down to 13.9 percent on his 2010 return (just one of the two he'll release). The average tax rate for American taxpayers is 11 percent, according to the Tax Foundation's analysis of 2009 IRS data.

Maybe Mitt's just jealous that his highly paid accountants and tax attorneys couldn't find ways in the tax code to totally erase his IRS bill.

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Jim F
September 25, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Since the 16th amendment was never ratified no one should be paying any type of federal income tax.
Most of all, the people didn't make the debt. Make the idiots that made the debt pay it.

Joda Solomon
September 25, 2012 at 11:58 am

I think the first $35K of everyone's income should be exempted from federal income taxes and the balance OF ALL INCOME (including corporations SINCE THEY ARE PEOPLE) taxed on a progressive scale. It is completely unlikely that the Tax Code will ever be completely overhauled so if the people that need help most, THE MIDDLE CLASS, benefit, the entire nation benefits.

The US will not recover until we get money into the hands of the middle class. Since wages keep going down we are regressing as a country, more and more falling into poverty.

Frank McMenamin
September 23, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Many years ago I saw a documentary which showed that the cost of the whiskey in a fifth was about $0.25. After tax on that company, and cost +taxes on shipping, the cost +taxes on distributing, the cost +taxes on retailing and the federal and state alcohol taxes, the final cost was about $10.00. So we have taxes on taxes on taxes on taxes, AND, even the labor components of the final cost includes the income taxes the laborers will have to pay. So, everyone in this country pays lots of taxes. Every dollar we spend is at least 50% taxes. How else could our incompetent politicians get their ridiculous perks while getting our country so deeply in debt

September 23, 2012 at 10:43 am

Everyone does pay taxes you idiots. Every time you buy or sell anything, what do you think that extra charge is? Every time you eat at a restaurant, pay a utility bill, visit a doctor or hospital, every single thing you do, every single thing you buy - you pay a tax on from birth and there is even a death tax. Even the bum on the street has to pay a tax on his booze or cup of coffee. That's the reason this topic is ridiculous. So you want to tax the poor more by having a flat rate? The rich already get deductions the poor don't get. Yeah, let's give them more breaks huh...

September 22, 2012 at 8:07 am

What we should do is remove ALL deductions/exemptions (including children and marriage) and make the rate the same all across the board (including capital gains tax). This would make our tax code simpler.

September 22, 2012 at 2:59 am

I just find it shocking how the mainstream mind set is that the people who use the least amount of government services (the wealthy) pay for the majority of the costs while the ones that use these programs aren't paying into the government at all (except for their cigarette/alcohol taxes)

September 21, 2012 at 8:27 am

I read Bankrate a lot to educate myself in a myriad of topics. I have always liked the focus, non-political form of Bankrate where it sticks to facts and avoids leaning one way or the other. However, this article STINKS of left-leaning politics. I'm looking at YOU Kay Bell. Keep the politicking OUT of Bankrate. If you want to write slanted articles, go write for Yahoo.