Tax gloves coming off in campaigns
Saturday, January 05, 2008
On the heels of news that the guy that currently occupies the White House is considering more tax cuts, the topic is getting renewed focus as a 2008 campaign issue.
Matthew Mosk in The Trail, the Washington Post's campaign '08 blog diary, says:
Apparently, there's only room in the Republican presidential field for one candidate who wants to abolish the IRS. At least that seems to be the message in a new Ron Paul mailing in New Hampshire. The glossy flyer [below] from the Texas congressman and maverick presidential contender does not target the two Republicans who lead in the polls there (Mitt Romney and John McCain); it instead goes after Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee, calling him a "habitual tax hiker."
The Little Rock, Ark., CBS affiliate KTHV, however, says that "in wake of Iowa win, Huckabee pins New Hampshire hopes on tax plan." The station reports that the former governor's believes his 23 percent national sales tax proposal "is resonating with New Hampshire voters."
But just south of the Granite State, an opinion piece in the Boston Globe calls the Huckabee "FairTax" proposal "too good to be true." Bruce Bartlett, deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury for economic policy from 1988 to 1993, writes:
When people hear about a 23 percent national sales tax, they naturally equate it to the state sales taxes they are familiar with. If a state sales tax is 5 percent, then this means that if someone buys something for $1 they will pay $1.05 at the checkout. Thus they assume that the FairTax would cause a $1 product to cost $1.23 if it were to be enacted.
In fact, the rate is not 23 percent, but 30 percent. The 23 percent rate is arrived at by treating the tax as if it were already part of the price instead of being on top. Thus if a product were to sell for $1 and the FairTax added 30 percent, the 30-cent tax comes to 23 percent of $1.30. This is how a 30 percent rate is deceptively turned into a 23 percent rate.
Want more on political taxes? Sure you do!
The Christian Science Monitor takes a look at the various presidential tax plans in this story.
Citizens for Tax Justice is keeping a running list of Tax Issues in the 2008 White House Race.
And, as blogged about earlier here, The Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution in Washington, has compiled a summary of the candidates' tax plans. You can view it via this PDF file, or click here to open up an Excel spreadsheet version.
Apparently, this type of misinformation is a long-standing tradition by Mr. Bartlett.
(Paraphrased) REPLY BY DAN R. MASTROMARCO (LL.M., Taxation, Georgetown, principal in the Argus Group, adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, International Management Program, and research consultant to Americans for Fair Taxation - FairTax.org) TO:
"A National Sales Tax Doesn’t Add Up" by Bruce Bartlett, December 29, 1999
Many engaged in true tax reform find Bartlett-type attacks exasperating, if not embarrassing. I'd like to convey perspective of both flat taxers and sales taxers who believe that such attacks are counterproductive, but first provide some political history by which to frame said perspectives.
For years Conservatives have posited that a VAT is bad policy (when liberals were discussing it), fearing it would become additional to an income tax (it was called a "money machine"). Circa 1980, conservative intellectuals touted Hall-Rabushka "subtraction method" [H-R] VAT which taxed business value added at the business side and labor value added at the labor side. Unlike European VATs (identical in scope), H-R became favorite of Dick Armey and Steve Forbes. It eliminated steeply progressive tax rates and tax on savings. Because of the prior VAT criticisms, H-R was packaged as the "flat tax" and is sold as an income tax to this day, rather than the VAT that "its DNA characterizes it as."
Some conservative commentators have called for the repeal of the 16th Amendment and for the adoption of the flat tax, (despite the fact that it is styled as a direct tax and could not be adopted with such repeal). Mr. Bartlett has called the national sales tax [ie, the FairTax] a VAT (which it isn't), castigated VATs as evil, and has said that sales taxes have become VATs in Europe (which they didn't). In the next breath, he "throws his arms around" the flat tax (which is a VAT). He quotes Bill Gale that the [FairTax] would have to be imposed at 60 percent, but glaringly fails to recognize that if the two bases are the same, he would have to impose that rate for the flat tax to be revenue neutral. In truth, all economists know that the two plans differ NOT in economic effect or base, but in administration.
An income tax taxes savings and investment multiple times. Both flat tax and FairTax are neutral as to savings and investment, tax income only once, and are both consumption taxes. Both are single rate taxes, have nearly the same base, and would improve the U.S. standard of living. Neither redistributes wealth.
While some have even suggested that they are the same plans under different names, the flat tax taxes value added at each stage in the production process, but the FairTax prefers to tax it when it is added up at the end and eliminate the need to make everyone a taxpayer and collector.
Substantive commonalities between the flat tax and FairTax doesn't mean that there are NO key political and policy distinctions that could be exploited in pitting one against the other. If FairTax supporters wanted to retaliate in response to the Bartlett-type critique, they would have MUCH material with which to HONESTLY do so:
• The flat tax will make small firms and farmers pay the tax even if they have no profit
• The flat tax is opposed by many small business groups
• The flat taxers implicitly support big government by disguising even more of the overall tax burden as the current law
• The flat tax has been kicking around for nearly 20 years
• The flat tax makes everyone a taxpayer and collector, while the FairTax exempts 115 million filers [2000 figure] from ever having to deal with the IRS
• The flat tax is regressive, but the FairTax would enable everyone to keep his full paycheck.
• The flat tax has not only stalled, it has lost public and Congressional support.
• The FairTax is instantly understood, while even some proponents of the flat tax don’t understand it
• There are no transition rules developed for the flat tax and they would be very difficult to craft
• The flat tax taxes exports and relieves imports from tax
• The flat tax confuses tax reform with temporary tax reduction and makes both twice as hard
• The flat tax retains the entire income tax apparatus which erodes as quickly as you can say, “tax bill”
FairTaxers could advance these truthful points without resorting to bigotry associated with a cultic religious organization. However, for the most part, FairTax supporters have chosen not to attack the flat tax, but rather accentuate the commonalities between the plans - despite the above-noted differences. The reason is that, in the battle for tax reform, the real enemy is our current system.
Income tax advocates look down upon the articles of Bruce Bartlett with smug chortling, as Bruce is doing their work for them. The IRS and the liberals who want an income tax to ensure (1) taxes can be raised without the American people knowing it, and (2) wealth can be redistributed from the middle class to the poor, do not even need to fight us - we're killing ourselves!
Perhaps Mr. Bartlett believes that the flat tax will help elect Republicans, effect tax reform, and provide tax cuts; however, the real effect of his criticism is to divide conservatives, to delay serious national consideration of tax reform, and to fertilize the roots of the income tax.
(Paraphrased from http://snipr.com/mastroflatvsfair - Addit'l at FairTax.org Whitepaper http://snipr.com/fairvsflat - May republish in whole, or part. -Ian)
Posted by: Ian | Saturday, January 05, 2008 at 05:51 PM