Reform tax code

WiG

This issue of Wisconsin Gazette hits the streets as the nation prepares to mark one of its annual milestones: Federal income taxes must be filed by April 15.

If 2014 is similar to the past two years, that’s also around the date you’ll be allowed to keep some of the money you’ve earned this year. According to the Tax Foundation, every penny earned by the average U.S. citizen before April 13, 2013, went to some form of the myriad taxes we pay.

We don’t oppose the principle of taxation. It’s a necessary evil to maintain the infrastructure needed to support the host of functions that separate contemporary life from that of hunter-gatherers.

We don’t want to live in a nation where people have to change their own streetlights, inspect their own food and pool resources to fix neighborhood potholes. Nor do we want those services given to politically connected businesses that will try to squeeze the maximum profits out of life’s necessities without accountability, except to their corporate backers.

But today we are taxed in more ways than you might realize, from “fees” to sin taxes to tolls. The U.S. tax code, which guides the mother of all taxes, is grossly unfair and confusing. Its dysfunctional collection agency, the Internal Revenue Service, wields absolute power over all but the wealthiest, who can afford pricey lawyers and accountants.

Our problem with the current tax code includes both its complexity and unfairness.

If paying taxes is an absolute duty, then tax collection should be a transparent and user-friendly process. Calculating taxes should be quick and simple, not the convoluted, expensive ordeal it’s become. 

Taxation should also be fair. It’s not fair when profitable corporations get tax rebates instead of paying taxes. Or when people who earn their income from investments that profit off other people’s labor get off tax-free, meaning the laborers not only make them rich but also carry their tax burden. 

Perhaps people are willing to tolerate  this rotten deal because they believe someday they’ll live in the manor and reap the same benefits. Setting aside the unworthiness of such aspirations, that’s not likely to occur. Thirty years of rule by corporate oligarchs has stacked the odds against that dream. Looking at a graph of the nation’s growing income inequality will burst that bubble.

Middle-class workers, including upper middle-class professionals and executives who fancy themselves rich, pay more than those who are actually rich. Very few people make enough money to qualify for the elaborate schemes and loopholes that prompted hotel magnate Leona Helmsley to snap, “Only the little people pay taxes.” 

One particularly insidious perk of the ultra-wealthy is their ability to park their money in overseas tax shelters by establishing shell corporations. An estimated 21 trillion to 32 trillion American dollars sit safely in tax havens around the globe while pundits paid by the rich try to deflect attention to the pittance paid for food stamps. 

We believe it’s past time for simplifying the tax code and making it more equitable. If our leaders can’t find a way to make taxation fair and functional, then we should elect people who will.