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When the wealthy pay no taxes

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I think it only human nature to feel offended when we dutifully pay our taxes every year, only to learn that some very wealthy person paid little or no tax. This week, for example, a story in Pro Publica revealed that Colorado’s Governor Jared Polis paid no taxes in 2013, 2014, and 2015, and local media went nuts. Outrageous!

But paying no taxes is not, in itself, a crime. Or so it seems to me. Wealthy people can hire the very best tax accountants to exploit in every way possible the tax laws and loopholes available to them. And with due diligence it may happen that their net tax due in a given year is $0. That’s not a crime if it’s all done correctly and legally, if all taxable income is reported, etc.

The crime is in not accurately, properly reporting the amount of taxable income, the actual value of investments, properties, etc. When the numbers are played with, values distorted, income hidden in offshore accounts, etc., it likely becomes criminal.

So I’ll admit that while a report of no taxes paid irks me, it may be entirely legal. That’s why we insist on the release of tax returns from public officials. An examination of those returns can reveal illegalities. If all is legal, fine. The official may be embarrassed, may incur a political liability, may suffer a tarnished public image, etc., but paying no taxes is not necessarily illegal.

The problem then is not wealthy people taking every advantage of the tax laws. It’s the laws themselves. Those with exploitable loopholes must be changed. Or abandoned. Or replaced.

Meanwhile, law number one must require the release of tax returns by any candidate running for public office.

In and of itself, not paying taxes is not a crime. How that zero tax liability was determined may be. The voters have a right to know.

I’m just an envious peon, as are most of my fellow citizens. And I’m really lousy with numbers. But I do believe the wealthy have the right to spend their legal income in any way they wish — even space tourism (though it really pains me to say that). And I do believe that as much as I may hate it, they have the right to use all available legal tax loopholes — just as you and I would — to reduce the amount owed.

Obviously then, the tax laws need to be changed, and the politicians need to be held accountable. It’s just a damned shame that the politicians make the tax laws.

And that’s the biggest loophole of all.

11 Comments »

  1. The tax laws are abysmal.
    Not a numbers person, but
    A flat tax? Still have collection difficulties?
    How about a simple sales tax on everything and no other Fed. taxes – so those who are paid under the table, never file returns even if they should – That way everyone who spends, pays. There are a lot of tax dodgers who get away with it even if not rich.
    And please, close the biggest tax escape loop hole of all: working for the federal government. Any employee on the federal payroll that owes taxes should be fired immediately – at least put on a payment plan with stiff consequences if not fired. You’d be stunned how many fed. employees get away with not paying…a lot in the IRS.
    Infuriating to hear them laugh about it.
    I don’t wish to punish those richer or more clever than I using legal means to avoid what they should pay, but seriously
    And the Fed. gov. need so tighten it’s belt and live on the amount of money coming in from taxpayers…and stop inventing reasons why we should pay more and more and more. DO what families do: stop spending.

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    • I’m so math illiterate I can scarcely address your suggestions. I know sales taxes work against the middle and lower class, but don’t ask me to explain. I’m guessing a flat tax would too, but can’t explain that either. It figures those working for the IRS would know all the tricks, and to a lesser extent, probably all those working for the government. And no, I’m not eager to punish the rich; I just want them to be honest. I do, however, often wonder how much is enough? If you already have more than you can spend in three lifetimes, why are you so desperate to hide the rest?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The tax code in the USA is ridiculous, of course. One of the biggest loopholes is the low tax on capital gains, only 15% to 20%. Taxes on net worth would be more fair than on income, but it’s too easy to hide such numbers. The most regressive taxes are sales taxes. They tax only a tiny portion of the income of the rich, but a great portion of the proletariat’s income. And the tax breaks for home ownership actually make no sense. (Think about it, why should the general population subsidize it over rental?) Bottom line, the tax code (don’t try to lift it!) is one huge pork barrel!

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    • Hmm, I hadn’t stopped to think that homeowners pay property tax but renters don’t (although part of their rent subsidizes the taxes paid by their landlords). Our taxes go to schools, roads, etc., but renters use them too. Good point, Jim. Even I can understand that. Senior citizens here do get a wee break on property taxes after they’ve owned the property for ten years, which I appreciate. It’s the sales taxes that I notice the most.

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  3. I know several people who received stimulus checks because they have some of those “best tax accountants” so their tax returns fit into the stimulus check algorithm and were deemed worthy. One word about renters, of which I am one. At least you mentioned that part of our rent does go towards the owners’ property taxes. I’m so tired of being told that I don’t pay property taxes. There is no free lunch. I’ve also been told by people that renters never vote or take part in city concerns and those are both myths in my experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I would never say that. I’ve spent quite a few years in apartments and I was no less responsible then than now. I just never stopped to think about my rent helping to pay property taxes, but then nobody ever got on my case about not having to pay property taxes. (And whose business is it anyway?) I’ve always voted and always been attentive to my city’s concerns, just like any other responsible citizen, regardless of whether I was in an apartment or a house.

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