Tag Archives: taxes

GOP’s Targeted Messages

Republicans’ skill in “messaging” has been a consistent theme of comments on this blog.

One of those skills is the ability of the GOP to tailor its communications–telling one group of people one thing , while assuring a different group (wink, wink) that the party has absolutely no intention of doing precisely what it is promising others it will do.

A recent illustration can be seen in an exchange between Rick Scott (The Florida Senator with a private-sector history of engineering Medicare fraud) and Mitch McConnell, aka the smarter but most evil man in America.

Recently, Scott  unveiled an 11-point plan that he identified as the GOP’s agenda–the party’s “to do” list once it retakes control of Congress. As Dana Milbank introduced a discussion of Scott’s plan in the Washington Post,

Suppose, for a moment, that the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the group overseeing the 2022 campaigns of all Democratic senators and Senate candidates, announced that Democrats, if they keep congressional majorities after November’s elections, would enact a plan that would raise taxes on working families more than $1 trillion over 10 years.

Further suppose that this top Democratic official also pledged that the Democratic majority would “sunset” laws that provide Americans with Social Security and Medicare, military retirement benefits, veterans programs, unemployment compensation, student loans, deposit insurance and more. Additionally, the Democrats would require U.S. businesses to shut down $600 billion a year in foreign trade and abandon countless billions in overseas investments.

The cry from Republican officials and the Fox News echo chamber would be deafening. Socialism! Defund! Tyranny! They might not even have time left to blame President Biden for Russia’s Ukraine invasion or high gas prices.

Of course–as Milbank proceeds to document–that’s really a description of the bulk of the Republican agenda Scott outlined. (Anti-gay, anti-CRT measures comprise most of the rest.) It is worth noting that Scott is hardly a “rogue”–he heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee. However, the agenda he unveiled was so politically toxic that McConnell disavowed it.

Scott’s plan would eliminate (sunset)  all federal legislation over five years. Scott assures voters that “worthy” laws would then be reenacted; presumably, policies that Republicans find  “unworthy” would stay dead. As various pundits have pointed out, that would probably mean the end of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and numerous other social programs that offend today’s GOP.  

As Milbank writes,

Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s how McConnell recently described the Scott plan: “We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years.”

About that provision raising taxes on half the American public: Analysis of Scott’s tax plan by the Brookings Tax Policy Center and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that the “Republican plan would raise taxes by $100 billion a year, or more than $1 trillion over the standard 10-year budgeting time frame. Almost all of it would be shouldered by households with income of $100,000 or less.”

As a column in Common Dreams explained, Scott introduced his tax proposal by saying “All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.”

To the mega-rich Scott — and his fellow Americans of ample means — this proposal no doubt seems entirely reasonable. To Americans who understand how our overall tax system works, Scott’s proposal just seems cruel.

All Americans, for starters, pay some taxes. They have “skin” in the game. They may not pay any federal income tax. But if they work, they pay federal payroll tax. If they don’t work, they still pay sales tax on goods they purchase. They face other state and local taxes as well.

Analyses of the plan found it would “increase taxes by more than $1,000 on average for the poorest 40 percent of Americans.”

“Low-income families with children would pay the most,” notes the Tax Policy Center analysis, “Achieving Scott’s goal would slash their after-tax incomes by more than $5,000, or more than 20 percent.”

Meanwhile, points out a Patriotic Millionaires analysis, those “uber-wealthy Americans who avoid federal income tax thanks to a series of loopholes that allow them to claim little to no income” would continue to face no more than a minuscule tax on their mega millions under the Scott “11 Points.”

“In the end,” the Patriotic Millionaires sum up, Scott’s plan amounts to “a wink and a nod to his wealthy donors to keep stealing.”

No wonder McConnell wanted to shut Scott down–the official GOP message machine keeps telling people that Republicans will cut taxes. Poor people don’t understand that only wealthy folks will see those cuts–and that they are the ones who will pay for them.

 

Games Republicans Play With Taxes

Media sources have begun warning of a “tax nightmare” ahead for April–filing delays and other administrative headaches , delayed refunds and a variety of mistakes likely to make us crazy.

“Things might be more challenging even than what we anticipate — and what we anticipate is very, very challenging,” a Treasury official told Axios, using the phrase “death spiral” to refer to one set of issues.

Why the warning? Why the situation? Funding. Actually, the lack of adequate funding.

The IRS raises the money America needs. According to official reports, the IRS collects 95 cents of every dollar in federal revenue. So you would think that giving the agency the resources to do its job, and do it efficiently and well, would be a high priority.

It isn’t. Instead, the agency is routinely described as being “in crisis.” Its budget has declined by 20% since 2010, while the number of taxpayers has increased by 19%.

The agency relies on software built in the 1960s, and it is facing a big backlog of paper filings including 6.2 million unprocessed 1040 forms.It doesn’t even have scanning technology– humans open the mail and manually enter information into its system.

According to one report, last year the agency answered only 29 million of the 282 million phone calls it received. And although the vast majority of taxpayers got their refunds fairly promptly last year, the agency was depending upon a significant increase in funding
from the Biden administration’s Build Back Better legislation.

Good luck with that.

So–why has Congress gutted the IRS? Pro Publica tells us in the subhead:

An eight-year campaign to slash the agency’s budget has left it understaffed, hamstrung and operating with archaic equipment. The result: billions less to fund the government. That’s good news for corporations and the wealthy.

The article begins with an example of what we are losing–money that must be made up by law-abiding taxpayers. Us.

In the summer of 2008, William Pfeil made a startling discovery: Hundreds of foreign companies that operated in the U.S. weren’t paying U.S. taxes, and his employer, the Internal Revenue Service, had no idea. Under U.S. law, companies that do business in the Gulf of Mexico owe the American government a piece of what they make drilling for oil there or helping those that do. But the vast majority of the foreign companies weren’t paying anything, and taxpaying American companies were upset, arguing that it unfairly allowed the foreign rivals to underbid for contracts.

Pfeil and the IRS started pursuing the non-U.S. entities. Ultimately, he figures he brought in more than $50 million in previously unpaid taxes over the course of about five years. It was an example of how the tax-collecting agency is supposed to work.

But then Congress began regularly reducing the IRS budget. After 43 years with the agency, Pfeil — who had hoped to reach his 50th anniversary — was angry about the “steady decrease in budget and resources” the agency had seen. He retired in 2013 at 68.

Because the cuts have come over an 8-year period, the utter collapse of the agency has escaped widespread notice. But at this point, according to Pro Publica, the bureaucracy is on life support, and America is losing tens of billions in revenue. (ProPublica estimates a toll of at least $18 billion every year, but admits that the true cost could easily run tens of billions of dollars higher.)

Tax obligations expire after 10 years if the IRS doesn’t pursue them. Such expirations were relatively infrequent before the budget cuts began. In 2010, $482 million in tax debts lapsed. By 2017, according to internal IRS collection reports, that figure had risen to $8.3 billion, 17 times as much as in 2010. The IRS’ ability to investigate criminals has atrophied as well.

And who stands to benefit? Need I share the following paragraph?

Corporations and the wealthy are the biggest beneficiaries of the IRS’ decay. Most Americans’ interaction with the IRS is largely automated. But it takes specialized, well-trained personnel to audit a business or a billionaire or to unravel a tax scheme — and those employees are leaving in droves and taking their expertise with them. For the country’s largest corporations, the danger of being hit with a billion-dollar tax bill has greatly diminished. For the rich, who research shows evade taxes the most, the IRS has become less and less of a force to be feared.

There is much, much more at the link, and it is all depressing. The GOP’s constant insistence that all of America’s ills can be solved with tax cuts is dishonest–and stupid–enough. But tax cuts aren’t the only way the party plays tax games to help its donors–and screw over the rest of us.

Taxes And Growth

One of the most reliable laments I post to this blog is the absolute refusal of many policymakers  to base their decisions on evidence. We live in a time when experience and reality are no match for the preferred ideologies of our lawmakers. (In all fairness, that phenomenon is probably not new, but it has certainly become more obvious.)

Marketwatch is a business publication that focused upon that disconnect in an article from early May. The title was”Texas, California and Indiana offer surprising lessons about low taxes and economic growth” and the subtitle–which trumpeted the basic conclusion–was “Indiana slashed taxes. Yet wages have fallen even further behind the national average.”

If the subtitle was insufficiently clear, the introductory paragraphs left no doubt:

Among the most common claims of state economic development officials is that higher taxes drive down growth and cause businesses and people to relocate to low-tax states. If you listen to cable news, you are likely to hear dire stories of people fleeing high-tax states in droves.

Yet the high-tax parts of both California and Texas are growing faster than the low-tax parts of both states. And growth in Indiana, which has cut corporate and personal income taxes in the past decade as well as put a cap on property taxes, is dismal.

I tend to foam at the mouth whenever I encounter a reference to Indiana’s property tax cap–not only is the cap bad policy, not only does it disproportionately strangle urban areas in our rural-privileged state, but in an unconscionable move to elevate political game playing over responsible governance, former Governor Daniels constitutionalized the cap–ensuring that, even if subsequent evidence of its counter-productivity emerged, the measure would be virtually impossible to reverse.

The article wasn’t aimed at the multiple flaws of the tax cap, however, so I will leave my extended diatribe for another day.

Why is it that prescriptions for lower taxes, like other seemingly obvious economic “cause and effect” formulations, turns out to be contradicted by real-world evidence?

Modern economic research consistently reports that lower taxes tend to promote growth and migration, but only when all other factors are held constant.

Here’s the rub: It is straightforward to create a model holding all these other factors constant, but in the real world, they never are constant. So the role of taxes has to be weighed against the value of what tax dollars provide.

It took me a long time to recognize the importance of that insight. I used to think it was obvious that a higher minimum wage would depress job creation–until I realized that such a result required all things being equal–and all things are rarely, if ever, equal. The “obvious” result ignored–among other things–the effects of low-wage workers’ increased buying power. We now have real-world evidence from jurisdictions that raised the minimum wage that the “obvious” result isn’t necessarily the actual result.

In the case of economic growth, the article looks at the rivalry between Texas and California, and finds (surprise!) that the popular rhetoric doesn’t reflect reality.

Stories about people “fleeing” California for Texas are common, and Elon Musk’s high-profile announcement that he was moving to Texas fuels the anecdote-driven news cycle. Taxes per capita are higher in California than in Texas, giving weight to the story that low taxes are driving this migration.

In fact, in the last year for which we have data, two out of every 1,000 Californians departed for Texas, while 1.2 of every 1,000 Texans moved to California. This is hardly a notable exodus, and it hardly explains why a rational Texan would head to California. Something else has to be going on.

Furthermore, as the article notes, people are more likely to move from city to city within a state than they are to move out of state, and tax rates vary far more between local governments than between states.

In California, the total state and local taxes in the highest-taxed place were more than three times that of the low-tax county. In Texas, the difference is three times as large as in California.

Further contradicting the preferred story, it turns out that population growth in both California and in Texas is concentrated in the higher-tax places. That’s because–as city planners have long insisted–what matters most isn’t the tax rate (although it certainly factors in) but the quality of life. It’s value for the dollar.

 Taxes represent one price for living in a particular city or town, but value — not price — is the key decision variable.

For the average family, value comes from tangible amenities like safe, livable neighborhoods, high-quality schools and great parks and trails. They go far beyond natural amenities such as beaches and mountains.

That’s a lesson I doubt Indiana’s gerrymandered legislators will ever learn.

 

 

 

Pay Your Dues!

I recently saw yet another study that attempted to quantify just how much money is lost to national treasuries by reason of what is politely called “tax avoidance.” 

The report, from an organization named the “Tax Justice Network,” is touted as the first study to thoroughly measure how much money each country loses each year to corporate tax abuse and private tax evasion. Its calculations were based upon data that had been self-reported by corporations to tax authorities.

I realize that one person’s loophole is another person’s policy choice, but with that caveat…

The research found–unsurprisingly–that wealthy countries are the primary drivers of tax revenue loss. (I say “unsurprisingly” because you have to have money to evade taxes.) Wealthy countries contributed most to the total of $427 billion in losses annually. Those losses, as the report noted, affect the ability of countries all over the world to provide services to the public.

This report puts numbers to the problem, but any sentient citizen is aware of the arguably pathological aversion to taxes displayed by many wealthy citizens and corporate entities. Certainly that’s true in the United States, where politicians with straight faces equate taxation with theft, and bemoan the extraction of dollars from presumed self-made “makers” to support those they dismiss as “takers.”

Probably the best response to this mischaracterization was Elizabeth Warren’s smackdown  a few years ago:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory… Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea – God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Economists are quick to point out that economic growth–and the ability of wealthy Americans to prosper in an economy heavily dependent on consumption–requires that those at the bottom of the income distribution have disposable income sufficient to spend in the marketplace. Corporate bigwigs don’t create jobs–job creation is a function of demand. (No one is going to be hired to produce more widgets if few people have the resources to buy those widgets.)

What I always wonder, however, is whether these “captains of industry” treat their country clubs and other membership organizations the way they treat their countries. How would the Orange Menace react if members of Mar-A-Lago declined to pay their dues?

Those golf courses need tending. The clubhouse roofs and mechanical systems require maintenance. The properly servile “help” won’t be there to bring you your Scotch and soda if they aren’t being paid. Etc. Why don’t the same people who presumably understand the need to pay dues adequate to keep these organizations functioning acknowledge that–as members of the polity–they have similar obligations to the country?

Because they do know better.The loss of those billions of dollars isn’t accidental.

“A global tax system that loses over $427 billion a year is not a broken system, it’s a system programmed to fail,” said Alex Cobham, chief executive of the Tax Justice Network.

The ability to evade paying one’s membership dues–the chutzpah required to be a “free rider” on the contributions of others– doesn’t mean that a businessperson is “smart.”  To the contrary, it demonstrates just who the real “takers” are.

 

He’ll Lie About ANYTHING

According to a number of news reports, in addition to bragging about his administration’s “excellent” performance during the pandemic (and who are you going to believe, Mr. Perfect or your lying eyes?), Trump plans to accuse hospitals and health officials of lying about the number of Covid-19 deaths. His campaign will insist that the numbers are exaggerated.

His base will probably believe him. (Google “motivated reasoning.”)

Over the past, horrific three plus years, those of us who do believe our own lying eyes have come to realize that there is absolutely nothing Trump won’t lie about, no matter how inconsequential or even counter-productive. He is so intellectually and emotionally defective, it is entirely possible he believes whatever comes out of his mouth. (In a recent op-ed, George Conway of the Lincoln Project suggested that Trump’s frantic lies are an effort to hide his inadequacies from himself; be that as it may, he clearly lacks the capacity to realize how stupid those lies–and his ungrammatical, misspelled angry tweets– make him look to sane people.)

I have recently come across two examples that illustrate the truly majestic sweep of Trump’s dishonesty, and how it manifests in absolutely anything and everything he mentions. The first was from Juanita Jean. 

Well, come to find out, even though Trump constantly says he was great at high school baseball and could have gone pro … no.  Not even close.

She then reproduced a tweet in which Trump bragged that, in high school, his baseball coach had called him one of the best players he’d ever coached.

Yeah, sure. As Juanita Jean notes, the reality was that he was pretty much the kid they picked last for the team.

Slate has managed to unearth nine box scores from Trump’s time at New York Military Academy, which showed a four-for-29 batting record in his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons, with three runs batted in and a single run scored. Trump’s batting average in the nine games Slate found box scores for stood at a disappointing .138.

Rational people would say “who cares?” Why would you bother to lie about something that–in the scheme of things–is so trivial? And so easily debunked?

Far more significant is the emerging evidence that Trump is nowhere near as wealthy as he has always claimed to be. His desperate efforts to keep his tax returns secret have led many observers to that conclusion, but up until now, it has all been speculative. With the Supreme Court preparing to rule on whether Trump’s accounting firm must comply with subpoenas for those tax records, Pro Publica has issued a very interesting report about that accounting firm.

The story is titled “Meet the Shadowy Accountants Who Do Trump’s Taxes and Help Him Seem Richer than He is,” a headline that gives a pretty good clue to what the investigation turned up. There was a lot to turn up, too–the investigative team found that in “various episodes” over a period of 30 years, partners of the firm — including its CEO — have been in legal trouble as a result of fraud, misconduct or malpractice.

(And that’s not even counting the New York partner who stabbed his wife to death back in 2016….)

According to Pro Publica, the firm helped Trump pay the least amount of taxes possible, which is what accountants generally do, but it also helped him appear “to be rich beyond imagining”–something that required creating “precisely the opposite impression of what’s in his tax filings.”

This lie is more understandable than the one about baseball. Creepy Steve Bannon is on record opining that, if Trump’s base were to discover that he’s not really a billionaire, the disillusion would trigger mass defections. (In America, there are evidently large numbers of people who believe those lines in “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof: “And it wouldn’t matter if I answered right or wrong; when you’re rich, they think you really know.”)

The legal issue before the Court should be a slam-dunk; as the lower courts properly concluded, no one is above the law, and ordering an accounting firm to hand over documents in its possession doesn’t require a President’s time or attention.But who knows?

I hope I’m wrong, but given Mitch McConnell’s appalling success in politicizing the Supreme Court, I don’t hold out much hope that we’ll see Trump’s taxes before November.

But even without the disclosures that lurk in his tax forms, the polls tell us that most Americans trust medical experts and state health officials far more than a President who only tells the truth accidentally.

Let’s just hope we don’t get invaded by aliens from outer space. If Trump warned us, we’d never believe him.