Category Archives: Taxation

Increase our awareness of taxes

As the annual tax season is upon us, we should take a moment to examine our level of awareness of the taxes we pay.

First, very many families don’t pay any federal income tax. According to a study by the Tax Foundation (link: http://www.taxfoundation.org/ff/zerotaxfilers.html) 58 million households, representing some 122 million people or 44 percent of the U.S. population, pay no federal income tax.

For those who do pay taxes, they often aren’t aware, on a continual basis, of just how much tax they pay. That’s because our taxes are conveniently withheld for us on our paychecks. Many people, I suspect, look at the bottom line — the amount they receive as a check or automatic bank deposit — and don’t really take notice of the taxes that were withheld. This makes paying taxes almost painless.

An alternative would be to eliminate the withholding of taxes from paychecks, and from monthly mortgage payments, too. Instead, each month or year the various taxing governments would send a bill to each taxpayer, and they would pay it just like the rest of their periodic bills. In this way, we would all be acutely aware of just how much tax we pay. I’m aware there is an obvious collection problem.

A further perversion is that many people are happy during tax season, because they get a refund. And they’re delighted to get that refund, so much so that many will pay high interest rates on a refund anticipation loan just to get the money a little earlier. The irony is that by adjusting their withholding, they could take possession of much of that money during the year as they earn it.

The other people happy during tax season are tax preparers. As a country we spend an enormous effort on tax recordkeeping and compliance. Another study by the Tax Foundation estimates that in 2002 we spent, as a nation, 5.8 billion hours and $194 billion complying with the federal tax code. (5.8 billion hours is equivalent to about 2,800,000 people working 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year.) By simplifying our tax code, we could eliminate much of this effort, and return that effort to productive use.

Since tax withholding from paychecks and mortgages reduces our awareness of just how much tax we pay, it’s unlikely that governments will stop withholding and submit a bill to taxpayers. It’s left to ourselves to remain aware of how much we are paying.

Abuse Of Tax Funds Must Stop

The following is from the Kansas Taxpayers Network. It shows how government-funded organizations participated in the campaign to increase Sedgwick County taxes.

Taxpayers’ funds are being used to promote higher taxes in Kansas. Tax funds are also being used to lobby for higher taxes (see VI. and 1. above). This is an egregious mess that the legislature should stop. Tax funds are also used for “informational” campaigns by taxpayer funded groups. This includes a variety of local units like school boards but is not limited to any local units.

How bad is this problem? Public campaign donation and expense records show that $45,907.85 was contributed to the “Vote Yea” committee from organizations that are partially or fully funded by tax funds. Here’s how the money is broken down in this advisory election:

1) Greater Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau contributed $10,000. The Greater Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau is almost entirely funded by the City of Wichita through its hotel/motel bed tax. In 2004 budgeted expenditures were $1,122,510.

2) Greater Wichita Sport Commission contributed $25,000. The Sports Commission operates out of the Convention and Visitors Bureau offices. City, county, and state tax funds in the form of $5,000 a year memberships finance this office. The state funds pay for Wichita State University’s membership.

3) Wichita Downtown Development Corporation contributed $2,324. This city sponsored organization for helping downtown is primarily funded with a four mill city property tax within its downtown area boundaries.

4) Kansas Turnpike Authority contributed $3,583.85. This contribution by a state organization listed an “Inkind” contribution of a “loaned executive,” for the “vote yea” campaign.

5) The Hyatt Regency Wichita contributed $5,000. The Hyatt Regency operates this city owned and money losing hotel adjacent to the Wichita Century II complex. Since this corporation has a contract to operate this hotel this is another city related and funded contribution, albeit through this back door donation.

These five contributions were more than twice the entire amount of the vote no campaign that spent just over $21,000 in their unsuccessful effort to defeat this advisory proposal. This spending does not include $5,000 more in 5016 funds for the tax hike campaign. Similar charitable donations in tax elections have also been reported in northeast Kansas. All these tax and 5016 expenditures should cease. However, these contributions and expenditures were probably a good deal less than the money spent by tax funded organizations to lobby the legislature. Some of these local units register as lobbyists (see lobbyist list for cities, counties, schools, and other entities) and some do not, like lobbyists for Regents Institutions.

Tax funds are being misused to litigate for higher taxes. School districts that spend tax funds to sue the state over school finance are biting the hand that feeds them and already provides the bulk of their entire budgets. The state school finance formula should have an adjustment to penalize school districts that are suing the state over school finance. The perpetual school litigation machinery needs to be turned off at the statehouse.