Ways to Make April 15 Just Another Day
by W. James Antle III
12 April 2004
dark day when America’s lowly taxpayers must account for the past year’s
economic activities and make sure they have forked over the proper amount
of income to the government is fast approaching.
They are working
overtime at H&R Block and accountants are trying to make sense of the
Byzantine federal income tax code for their clients in time for the April
15th deadline. That dark day when America’s lowly taxpayers must account
for the past year’s economic activities and make sure they have forked over
the proper amount of income to the government is fast approaching.
During the 2004 presidential election cycle, a debate about tax policy is
inevitable. There will be talk of raising taxes and cutting taxes,
increasing revenues and offering tax relief, people who are not paying their
“fair share” and overtaxed “working families.” But it is unlikely that
either of the major candidates will seriously propose anything to make April
15 a day like any other rather than a day of infamy for America’s most productive.
That doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t dream. Herewith, I offer several
suggestions with no practical chance of passage in our current political
environment that would nevertheless help taxpayers and their wallets to live
in peace together on that dreaded Tax Day.
Move the day on which federal income taxes are due from April 15 to Election Day:
Let’s literally make April 15 a normal day rather than Tax Day. As
it stands right now, politicians buy votes by promising huge government programs
that would benefit various voting blocs. Electioneering amounts to
little more than promising the electorate a free lunch, or confiscating one
side’s wealth to pay for another side’s goodies.
The costs of prescription drug coverage, national health insurance, additional
weeks of unemployment benefits and other enlargements of the welfare state
are seldom discussed much less considered. What if voters had no choice
but to contemplate them by seeing the price tag of big government on the
very day they went to the polling stations? It might make some of them
think twice about falling prey to the high-price promises of smooth-talking
charlatans who seek only to deceive them out of their wallets.
End withholding: One of the main reasons the postwar growth
of government has been so palatable to taxpayers is that during World War
II, the federal government instituted tax withholding. This efficiency
measure takes taxable income right off the top of workers’ paychecks before
they even see the money. This makes their tax burden appear less painful
because they never grow accustomed to the wealth they have lost in the first
Worse, under this system many taxpayers overpay. True, they get their
money back in refunds. But this is only after the federal government
has had use of these funds interest-free for up to a year. On top of
this, many people view their tax refunds as a gift from the government rather
than a repayment of a loan without an interest.
Imagine instead if Americans had to pay for government by writing monthly
checks the same way they paid for rent, automobiles and other major expenses.
They would play a firsthand role in calculating how much government was costing
them rather than simply seeing the benefits being paid out to them.
In order to return to the Founders’ system of limited government, withholding
must go. Milton Friedman was wrong on this one.
Limit federal spending and taxation, not just borrowing:
There is much to be said in favor of a balanced budget amendment. But the
deficit is far from the only cost the government imposes on the economy.
Every dime the government spends must be taken from the private sector, regardless
of whether the method is taxing, borrowing or inflation.
A real amendment or law that would mandate fiscal discipline wouldn’t simply
allow politicians to raise taxes to try to cover deficits. It would
curb the root cause of the problem, the level of spending. Ideally,
the federal government would only spend money on things authorized by the
U.S. Constitution. However, an improvement in our current climate would
be to limit the growth of the federal budget to population growth plus inflation.
This is not an impractical limitation. Several states currently do
it. The TABOR restrictions in Colorado helped the state avoid the deficits
and fiscal meltdown that so many other statehouses faced as the economy slowed
in recent years. Instead of wallowing in red ink and raising taxes
to try to balance the budget, taxpayers continue to receive refunds paid
to them out of the budget surplus. A concrete check on expenditures
is the only real solution to fiscal irresponsibility. It is also the
best way to minimize the tax burden on hardworking citizens.
Illustrate the true cost of even small federal programs to real taxpayers: Ken Adelman had a sensible suggestion in a column for the Washington Times
about ten years ago. Each federal program should be evaluated based
on the number of people who on average would have paid their entire income
tax bill to finance it.
Say the average annual income tax payment is $4000. A $200,000 federal
program studying cow flatulence or the mating habits of fruitflies doesn’t
sound like much. But when you consider that about 50 taxpayers paid
their entire income tax bill for the year on such nonsense, this puts it
in perspective. You try explaining to the plumber in Brooklyn or the
cabbie in Hoboken why he paid so much money to the federal government for
a polka music museum in some committee chairman’s district.
Abolish the federal income tax: Of course, all of these
proposals are gimmicks compared to cutting off the hydra’s head. Each
year, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) sponsors the Liberty Amendment, which would repeal
the 16th Amendment and rescind the personal income tax. Economic growth,
personal privacy and individual freedom would all be greatly expanded by
its enactment. Each year, the Liberty Amendment languishes as politicians
fear starving unconstitutional government programs.
Some conservatives favor replacing the income tax with some form of national
consumption-based tax. Others, ranging from Howard Phillips to Alan
Keyes, prefer replacing the income tax with nothing and instead funding the
federal government with fees, tariffs, duties and imposts. Sound unrealistic?
This was in fact America’s original tax system and raised sufficient revenue
for most of our nation’s history before 1913. This unfortunately is
possible only under a regime of constitutionally limited government.
The odds of any of these ideas are no better than the prospects for politics
being rated much higher than prostitution as a noble profession in most people’s
minds. Thus, I mailed in my tax forms and eagerly await my refund check.
But it doesn’t hurt to remember as you rush those 1040s off to the Post Office
that there is an alternative to the current arrangement.
Some might even say it was the original plan.
W. James Antle III is a primary columnist for Intellectual Conservative.com. He works as an assistant editor of The American Conservative magazine and is also a senior editor of EnterStageRight.com.
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