Tax Freedom Day arrived two days later this year than last, and Americans aren’t happy about it. Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed in a Tax Foundation poll said that the amount of federal income tax they pay is too high. Respondents also expressed dissatisfaction with estate, gasoline, and property taxes, among others.
Who can blame them?
Since 2003, Tax Freedom Day—the day when, according to the Tax Foundation, Americans have earned enough money to pay their federal, state, and local taxes—has moved later and later in the year. In 2007 it arrives today (April 30); between 2003 and 2006 it arrived on April 18, April 19, April 26, and April 28, respectively. That’s an ominous trend, one we should remember as we evaluate the 2008 presidential candidates.
Republicans like to talk about taxes. They often promise to cut or eliminate taxes on the campaign trail. Sometimes they follow through on those promises. That was the case with President Bush, who cut taxes in 2001 and 2003—policies that pushed Tax Freedom Day earlier in the calendar.
Democrats don’t like to talk about taxes. It makes them uncomfortable. Knowing that a majority of Americans oppose higher taxes, Democrats rarely link their new government program proposals with the tax increases necessary to pay for them. But occasionally Democrats will speak honestly and openly about taxes, and when they do we should listen carefully.
Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press in February, John Edwards discussed his plan for a government-funded health care system, and admitted that it would require massive tax increases. “We’ll have to raise taxes,” Edwards said. “The only way you can pay for a healthcare plan that will cost anywhere from $90 to $120 billion is there has to be a revenue source.”
That same month Hillary Clinton addressed the Democratic National Committee and called for $20 billion in new fees and taxes to pay for a new—and inevitably unworkable—energy bureaucracy. Clinton said the following: “The other day the oil companies recorded the highest profits in the history of the world. I want to take those profits. “
Barack Obama hasn’t been any better. He has consistently criticized the 2001 and 2003 tax-cuts, and has said—as have many of his Democratic colleagues—that he would roll-back the capital gains and stock dividend taxes. This despite the fact that the Dow Jones soared above the 13,000 mark for the first time in history last week, due in large part to those very tax-cuts. Leave it to the Democrats to argue with success.
Conservatives have good reason for concern about potentially crippling tax rates under a Democratic administration. For one, we remember the malaise of the Carter years all too clearly; incidentally, we remember the way President Reagan’s tax-cutting, pro-growth agenda gave America a booming economy and victory over the Soviet Union.
More than that, we remain concerned about the increasing size and role of government in American life. Consider that this year the average American will spend more money on taxes than on housing and healthcare combined. Tax Foundation data also reveals that all taxes as a percentage of income has risen from 5.9 percent in 1900 to 32.7 percent in 2007. Granted, the size of our country has grown exponentially in that time, so some of the increase in taxes as a percentage of income was certainly good and necessary. However, a steady, seemingly unstoppable growth in government’s confiscatory powers does not portend good things for the future.
One problem is determining where and when the growth stops, and that’s a difficult task when faced with taxation by a thousand cuts. The Tax Foundation claims we work 43 days to pay our individual income taxes; 30 days to pay social insurance taxes; 16 days to pay sales and excise taxes; 12 days to pay property taxes; 14 days to pay corporate income taxes; 4 days for other taxes; and 1 day for estate and gift taxes. That’s 120 working days for one individual to pay his or her share of the tax burden.
Another problem is fighting against the inertia brought about by government power. The higher our tax rates rise, the less power individuals feel they have to change them. Democrats bank on this reaction, for it enables them to consolidate power at the expense of seemingly helpless citizens.
But we must not accept this false impulse, for there is much we can do to push back against our tax burden. Certainly we can support groups like the Tax Foundation that defend taxpayers in Washington. We can also vote. And when we do we should ask candidates what direction they would like to see Tax Freedom Day move on the calendar. Some of them have already given us an answer.