Everyone should pay some tax

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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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