President George W. Bush’s bipartisan Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform should propose a measure to assist a neglected segment of society: the avowedly under-taxed. The H.O.T. Tax, or Higher-rate Optional Tax, would give those who think their levies are too low the ability to pay the steeper tax bills they say they deserve. This is the truly compassionate thing to do.
The H.O.T. Tax would offer relief to powerful Democrats and wealthy liberals who cannot stand it when Republicans cut their taxes. Look how lowering taxes has raised the blood pressure of these Americans:
‐”I don’t need a tax cut,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N. J.) announced last October 8 on the Senate floor. “It will not do me any more good. I can’t buy more. I can’t eat any more. I can’t do more, and I want it distributed among the ordinary people who work every day.”
‐”If you think it’s good policy to pay for my tax cut with the Social Security checks of working men and women, and borrowed money from China, vote for them [the GOP],” Pres. Bill Clinton told the Democratic Convention last July 26. “If not, John Kerry’s your man.”
‐”I am a traitor to my class,” actor Paul Newman said last July 8. “I think that tax cuts for wealthy thugs like me are borderline criminal. I live very high off the hog.”
‐”Because of Bush’s tax cuts, I saved a million and a half in taxes last year. Does anyone think that’s fair?” Ben Affleck asked at a July 2004 John Kerry fundraiser.
‐”Why should wealthy people such as myself receive a tax cut?” Barbra Streisand wondered on her website. “I will be the first to admit that I don’t need it. What we all need is a healthy government that can provide the services (such as education, health care, national and homeland security) that we all depend on.”
‐”I don’t need a tax cut or tax relief,” billionaire music impresario David Geffen explained in the March 15, 2001 Washington Post. “It is a privilege to be an American citizen. It is appropriate to pay a greater share of taxes.”
‐”I want no tax cuts, and want to pay MY FULL SHARE of taxes to support the public good,” Oregonian Harry Demarest stated on the website of United for a Fair Economy, an anti-tax-cut group co-founded by Chuck Collins, heir to the Oscar Meyer wiener fortune.
The H.O.T. Tax would ease these statists’ pain. The IRS simply would add a small box to the 1040 tax form beside these words: “If you believe you should be taxed at a rate above that assigned to your income bracket, please indicate here the higher rate you prefer. Kindly calculate your tax liability, and send it in.”
With that easy step, congressional liberals and residents of Malibu and Martha’s Vineyard no longer would have to keep the tax cuts conservatives keep throwing their way. Instead, they could send 50, 75, or even 99 percent of their incomes to Washington, so the GOP, Congress, and President Bush can spend it even better than they can.
While this reform would increase taxpayer choice, it might generate little revenue. Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Virginia taxpayers already may pay above and beyond their usual top rates, though few do this. When Massachusetts cut its top tax rate to 5.3 percent in 2001, it let guilty liberals pay the old 5.85 percent rate if they wished. According to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, as of June 15, only 930 taxpayers opted to do so on their 2004 returns generating an extra $246,505. In 2002, 2,215 taxpayers paid the higher rate, yielding $341,829. Among 3,218,572 returns filed in 2003, only 1,488 (or 0.046 percent) paid the voluntary higher rate, adding $209,216 to state coffers.
Citizens for Limited Taxation in Marblehead, Mass., persuaded friendly state legislators to introduce this law in 2000.
Pro-tax U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) also has spurned the higher rate. “No, I won’t” pay some $800 extra, Frank told Boston radio host Howie Carr in April 2003. “I don’t trust the legislative leadership and Gov. [Mitt] Romney to make the right decisions, so I’ll donate the money myself, probably to some health clinics in New Bedford that are going to get hit hard in the new budget.” How inspiring to see a confirmed progressive like Barney Frank choose private charity over public assistance.
“Americans recognize, as Congressman Frank also figured out, that government doesn’t spend its money wisely as is and already takes too much of what we earn,” National Taxpayers Union president John Berthoud observes.
Sen. John Kerry (D. Mass.) sailed into hot water last year when tax returns revealed that he also paid the Bay State’s lower tax rate. Kerry thus enjoyed state tax cuts akin to the federal tax reductions he excoriated on the campaign trail. Then again, perhaps he intended to pay Massachusetts’ higher rate, but his calculator slid off his yacht.
This idea certainly has national political value. “It gives a real, live vote,” says Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “Without releasing any personal information, the government could report each year that only 1 percent of Americans paid the extra amount, which gives us a hard count on who thinks he is undertaxed.”
Beneficent supply-siders should introduce the H.O.T. Tax in Congress even before the tax-reform commission’s September 30 reporting deadline. American liberals should be given the earliest opportunity to stop resisting tax relief and send the Treasury as much of their own money as their bleeding hearts desire.
–Deroy Murdock is a New York-based syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Virginia. He will appear June 18 as a panelist at NTU’s 2005 National Taxpayers Conference in Washington, D.C.