Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Simple Questions

I had a great phone conversation with a listener yesterday. I'm not going to use his name--although he was one of the few to actually give it to me when he called--because this isn't about embarrasing one individual. Instead, he merely represents that segment of the population a little out of touch with what's going on out there.

He called to complain about "all the conservative talk show hosts" on WOSH and why don't we provide some "fair" discussion of the issues. After listing several low-rated, no-name liberal talk show hosts (they are apparently "fair") that he thought we should add, he mentioned that he was sick of hearing our hosts talk about how we pay too much in taxes. It was his contention that we don't pay that much in taxes--and that "we used to pay a lot more than we do now."

I think he expected me to give him the standard "Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are the higest rated radio shows in the country" line--but instead I asked him in what year we paid more in taxes than we do now? He couldn't answer that. He tried to make a case for the Bush tax cuts--but didn't know exactly how much that actually reduced anyone's taxes.

And then I asked him another simple question: How much is a fair amount to pay in taxes? Again, no answer. I told him that my wife and I paid 28-percent of gross income in federal taxes and withholdings last year. He seemed genuinely surprised that I would know how much I paid in taxes. He was "pretty sure" that he paid less than that--but he had no idea what tax bracket he is in--couldn't understand how I was even able to figure that out.

I stunned our caller some more by telling him that I knew that I paid another 6.5% in state income taxes, a little less than 5% in property taxes and then another 5% on all of my purchases and 51.3-cents a gallon on gas. Again, sheer amazement that I would know the actual cost of taxes in my life.

And then I asked him again--how much is a fair amount to pay in taxes. Finally he said "Well I guess 28-percent." So then I asked if the people paying 35% are overpaying--or if the people paying 10% are underpaying? "Well, I don't know. I guess I don't know what would be a fair percentage."

I don't know if the caller hung up and began to rethink his opinion on what we pay in taxes. I doubt I did. I also doubt that he broke out his W-2's and tax forms to learn the impact taxes have his life.

John Kass had a great op-ed piece in the Sunday Chicago Tribune where he proposed that we pay all of our taxes at one time. No more withholdings on our paychecks--which really serve to lessen the perceived impact--just one big check for federal, state, local, Social Security and Medicare taxes paid on April 15th. I'd bet that a lot of people (like our caller) would be shocked how big that check is.

To sweeten the plan, Kass proposes that all of our elections--federal, state and local--be held the very next day...while the taste of what you just paid in taxes is still fresh in your mouth. I bet we would have some very different "spending priorities" at every level of government if that was the set up.

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