Doug Robinson: Tax anniversary marks a dark day

Published: Monday, Jan. 7 2013 10:25 p.m. MST

Bank 2011 tax forms are seen at an H&R Block in Rockville, Md., on Friday, Jan. 6, 2012.

Associated Press

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Congratulations, America. You're probably unaware that we as a nation are about to mark the 100th anniversary of a great, yet truly horrible, event in American history.

On Feb. 3, 2013, we will celebrate 100 years since the ratification of the 16th amendment establishing Congress' right to impose and collect federal income tax, thus fulfilling its sworn duty to, whenever possible, make our lives more difficult, complex and nonsensical.

OK, "celebrate" might not be the right word. How about "mourn"?

One hundred years ago, nobody knew what a write-off was or a 1040EZ. You could work as hard as you wanted and keep the monetary rewards without having to give it to the government to give to someone else or to fund scientific studies on the mating habits of lemurs or to buy $600 toilet seats for the Pentagon.

Somehow we managed to get by without income tax for 140 years, with the exception of a flat 3 percent flat tax on all incomes over $800 to fund the Civil War. It was repealed in 1872.

But then someone wondered: How come we don't have a national debt? They went to work on it immediately. Congressmen, who are to taxation what rabbits are to procreation, tried to resurrect income tax in 1894, but the Supreme Court struck it down, even though Warren Buffett, a fledgling hedge-fund manager who is now about 250 years old, was begging them to tax him and other rich people.

Then, in 1913, they ratified it anyway, at the exorbitant rate of 1 percent on net income. The ink on the law wasn't dry before people were working loopholes — less than 1 percent of the population paid income taxes that year.

Well, the floodgates opened, and the game began. A century later, we have a system that challenges college football for complexity and flying in the face of common sense.

One hundred years later: If you're middle or upper-middle class, you're paying an effective federal income tax rate of 15 percent to 20 percent. If you live in Utah, you're paying a flat state tax of 5 percent (but double that in some states). Then, there are Social Security and Medicare taxes that add up to 7.65 percent. Just like that, one-third of your income, gone.

But they're not done with you yet. Add to that property tax, gasoline tax (which is roughly half of the cost of gas), sales tax, federal and corporate income taxes (which are passed on to you), and it's another hit of roughly 15 percent. Now we're up to 42 percent to 48 percent.

We're almost done. Just sit back and enjoy this, like a root canal. Now add to all of the above the myriad miscellaneous taxes you hardly even notice anymore — licenses for fishing, hunting, driving, marriage, owning a dog, inheritances, breathing (literally — air pollution, you see), cell phone usage, visiting a national or state park, capital gains, building permits, etc.

Congratulations, you are paying well over half of your income to the government.

And still it isn't enough. In 100 years, we've built a $16 trillion debt. President Obama and Congress invoked a tax on the rich this year that will amount to a drop in the ocean for reducing that debt. Yet, he is insisting on no cuts in government spending and raising the debt ceiling. This is the man who said four years ago, "We cannot and will not sustain deficits like these without end. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom in Washington these past few years we cannot simply spend as we please and defer the consequences to the next budget, the next administration, the next generation. … Today I am pledging to cut this deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term in office. …"

This was right before he spent as he pleased, adding $6 trillion to the deficit.

Let's see if we've got this straight: The plan is to fix the economy and the deficit by adding more debt.

In the early days of taxation, they taxed booze and tobacco sales (hence, the Whiskey Rebellion, which, like the Revolutionary War, was spawned by a revolt against taxes). Now they tax you if you buy a loaf of bread. They tax you if you die and leave behind more than a certain amount of money — money, by the way, that has already been taxed.

Nobody asks this: Where does it all end? What is enough to satiate government — 40 percent of your income? 50 percent? 60 percent? 100 percent?

The fiscal cliff is not a new phenomenon — we've been marching toward it for a century.

Email: drob@desnews.com

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