I have resisted the urge to see the movie "27 Dresses." The title reminds me too much of my monthly credit card bills.
That's how it goes when your daughter is preparing for a wedding.
But I'm paying less for the bride and all her bridesmaids than I am this year in federal, state and local taxes. That says less about the cost of weddings than it does about taxes.
A change of perspective can make a big difference in how we view things. Instead of just glancing at the deductions on your paycheck stub or adding numbers on your tax returns, look at it this way:
In any given eight-hour work day, you spend an average of two hours and 28 minutes working just to pay that day's share of taxes of every kind. In comparison, you work 17 minutes to afford clothing and accessories, 46 minutes for food, one hour and 19 minutes for housing costs and one hour and six minutes for medical care.
Obesity is a national epidemic, and yet we spend far less than a lunch break each day working to pad our waistlines. Instead, we're gorging ourselves on taxes.
That breakdown comes courtesy of the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan research group in Washington. For many years now, it has published an annual estimate of when "Tax Freedom Day" arrives in the U.S. That is the day when the average American has earned enough to pay all his or her tax bills for the year, assuming they did nothing but apply all earnings to taxes from Jan. 1.
This year, national Tax Freedom Day will be April 23. The good news is this is three days earlier than last year, mainly because of the rebates coming soon. The bad news is it's a lot later than in 1900, when Tax Freedom Day came on Jan. 22. If you want an even different perspective, consider that taxes will suck up 30.8 percent of all income earned in this country this year. In 1900, they took 5.9 percent.
The foundation calculates freedom day by state, as well. In Utah, it comes April 21 this year. That represents the 17th highest tax burden in the nation and a lot later than Alaska's March 29.
If you're really into numbers, the annual report gets specific about types of taxes. You work 12 days to afford property taxes, 16 days for sales and excise taxes and a whopping 42 days for federal and state income taxes (which makes all the fuss about property taxes seem a bit misplaced). The entire report is available at www.taxfoundation.org.
Of course, there is yet another perspective to all this, and that has to do with the services those taxes buy. That is, of course, the arena in which the real fights begin.
My concern in presenting these figures is that we could soon look back on these days nostalgically. Last week, the Bush administration released a report showing Medicare and Social Security on the brink of disaster. Medicare will have exhausted its insurance trust fund by 2019, and Social Security will begin paying out more than it receives in 2017.
Optimists will note that the Social Security trust fund won't run out of money until 2041, but I wonder where they think that trust-fund money comes from. The government doesn't have a big vault somewhere where it stores the money. The surplus exists only in the form of government bonds. In reality, Social Security receipts have been spent on other government needs. For example, without a raid on these funds, the famous Clinton-era government surpluses wouldn't have existed.
Keeping those programs going will require more taxes and that doesn't even begin to take into account the cost of any health-care reform programs the next president might want to push.
Not raising taxes has its price, too. The Tax Foundation notes that if this year's budget deficit were figured in, Tax Freedom Day would come 10 days later.The word "freedom" has many applications. Once you have finished paying your obligations, you are free to spend your money as you wish, which fuels the economy and can help you build wealth. But the more time we spend working for taxes, the less time we have to work for things like dresses.
Jay Evensen is editor of the Deseret Morning News editorial page. E-mail: [email protected]