Friday, April 17, 2009

Gretchen's Challenge

The day before yesterday, I made this Facebook comment:

"I used to believe in the "fair tax", Russ, but I also believed that the Republicans were the noble people best suited to lead our country. I'm pretty sure I was wrong about both."

The next comment after mine was from Gretchen, "William, from what I know of the Fair Tax it seems like a pretty good idea. But you seem really informed and I'd love to know your thoughts on it."

Someone has mistaken me for a well-informed person! I don't know exactly how to respond to that. That I'm an opinionated person is without question, but whether or not my opinions are based on sound reasoning has yet to be determined.

When my wife, first daughter and I moved to Santa Fe, NM in 1960, we encountered the "sales tax". But was it a sales tax? Out of the clear blue sky, one day, my architect employers were required to pay tax on services that we rendered on a job from The University of New Mexico. I was too detached at the time to even wonder what that was all about, but it was explained to my boss that it wasn't really a sales tax, it was a tax on business, and that the businesses were allowed to collect that amount from their customers (if they wanted to). Wow! Nobody had ever thought about that before. Today, in retrospect, I think that it may have been my first exposure to the Bush philosophy of making up the rules to suit the situation. All I can say for sure is that the University, a state entity, was not required to pay the tax money to the architects, but the architects were required to pay it to the state. On more than one occasion, we'd submit a statement (to ordinary citizens), to have the added tax rejected, with the simple comment "No sales tax on services".

But I digress much more than I should! That has little to do with the question at hand, it's just something I wanted to get off my chest.

One of my neighbors when we lived on Garcia Street, who had recently moved from New Jersey, would often say, "The sales tax is the most unfair tax ever conceived". At the time, I felt that the damyankee was out of his mind. How could it be "unfair" if everybody got to pay equally? Of course at that time, there was an effort during the Kennedy administration to abolish the poll tax, and, among my colleagues at work, I strongly defended the idea of Texas' poll tax, so my thoughts are not always clear and logical.

So, that was in 1961. In approximately 1990, I was still defending the idea of the "value added" tax. I managed to bring my boss around to my way of thinking, because it also seemed to make sense to her.

I think that, back in the '80s, they were talking about a "value added" federal tax of about 10%. It was not long before they had increased their fantasy to about 18%. It would probably be higher by now, and don't forget that there are people in this country who make their living interpreting the vagaries of the complicated tax code for people who would prefer not to be burdened with the hassle. No matter what the proponents say, do you honestly think that a "simple" tax code based on a "value added" tax would stay simple for very long?

When they started referring to "earned" income on the tax forms, I did not relish that concept, either. If a person invests his money to earn additional income rather than spending it on a new TV, isn't that also "earning"?

However, as I became an old codger, I began to think that maybe a person who works for a living should get some breaks.

In 1963, the "SalesTax" portion of New Mexico's system was 4%. Now, it's 5%, but many items have been exempted since 2005. Texas didn't have a sales tax then, but they got one soon after I moved back. I think they started at about 3%, but look where they are now! You think of this as a painless tax that you don't have to pay, but it applies to many, many, things, like clothing, automobiles, auto parts, your precious CDs and video games,.............;^} that you DO have to buy.

People who get the most income, "earned" or "unearned", are not required to spend the majority of their income on necessities.

Remember when our former president said (approximately), "It's important to have a strong economy. A strong economy attracts capital". To my convoluted way of thinking, "attracting capital" had a lot to do with the state of our current economy, which is (temporarily) not "strong".

Gretchen, I think I answered your question in a single sentence a while back, but the reason I chose "Meander" for a name is that I can never say anything simply, and I do not easily focus my thoughts on a single task.

BUT, rather than ramble on, I'm going to eventually finish with the second part of the question.

Until 1980, I had a great deal of faith in the Republican Party. They seemed to be the party that had clear visions, and competent people who were well suited to lead.

Why they decided that was not enough, I do not know. But suddenly the Republicans became the rowdy Democrats, who had never appealed to me before. They began to appeal to the baser emotions, and began to emphasize what should have been non-issues.

When I voted against John F. Kennedy in 1960, he was promising to get the tax cut. At that time, the highest Federal income tax bracket was 90%. Now it's 34% (I think), and the exemptions are so high that most people are just as well off not trying to itemize their deductions. Yet it's still a central focus of the Republican Party that "Taxes are too high". Of course they are, but is it Washington's taxes that are too high, or is it Austin's, and in my case, Williamson County's? Those State and Local taxes, which make up at somewhere near half of the taxes that people are so incensed about, would not be affected at all by a change in the Federal tax.

Enough, enough, whether or not I've made any kind of point. I told you, Gretchen, that it wouldn't fit in a Facebook comment, and that's for sure. I regret having been so wordy, but I think I may have revealed some secrets here about myself that I was not yet aware of, so it's been a learning experience. Good luck with trying to make some sense of it.

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