- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 12, 2004

John Kerry promised in the second presidential debate not to raise taxes on people making less than $200,000 a year, but critics of his revenue-raising plan said yesterday that it would hit people who earn less and further complicate the income tax code.

One critic notes that the Democratic candidate’s promised tax increases probably would fall on many of his supporters “who believe they are middle class.”

Mr. Kerry’s campaign Web site states that he would “estore the top two tax brackets to their levels under President Clinton,” which were set at 39.6 percent and 36 percent respectively until President Bush cut all the marginal tax rates in 2001 — lowering the two highest to 35 percent and 33 percent.

The lower of these two top tax brackets applies to single people who earn at least $143,500 and married couples filing jointly who have a combined income of $174,700 or more. Thus, a two-earner married couple filing jointly, each making $87,350 a year, could be taxed under the higher tax rate that Mr. Kerry proposes if he applied it to the income brackets that are currently in the income tax schedule used by the Internal Revenue Service.

But Mr. Kerry’s Web site also promises that he “will roll back only Bush’s tax cuts for those making over $200,000 a year.” That would seem to be a contradiction under the current income tax rate schedule in the IRS tax code.

Jason Furman, a spokesman for the Kerry campaign, reiterated yesterday that the Democratic presidential nominee “is going to extend the tax cuts to every tax unit making up to $200,000 of adjusted gross income.”

But what about married couples who file jointly who each make $100,000 and thus would have to pay the higher 39.6 percent marginal tax rate Mr. Kerry proposes?

“I don’t think there are many married couples that would be in that bracket, but Kerry would design a deduction to insure that they get to keep the entire tax cut that applies to those under $200,000,” Mr. Furman said.

John Berthoud, president of the National Taxpayers Union, said yesterday that he is skeptical of Mr. Kerry’s promise of a $200,000 threshold. “If you look at the vast gulf in spending proposed by Kerry and these tax increases, they are going to be looking for wiggle room about where those taxes are going to hit,” he said.

“At different points in the campaign, they have had three standards for their tax increases: those making more than $200,000 a year, those in the top 2 percent of income earners, and they’ve talked about restoring the top two brackets under Clinton,” Mr. Berthoud said.

“The fact that they have three parameters about where the tax hikes are going to kick in should provide a warning about who’s going to be hit by this tax increase, which is the great unknown,” he said.

Scott Hodge, who runs the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, said an additional tax bracket would have to be inserted into the IRS code to keep Mr. Kerry’s $200,000 political pledge.

“The $200,000 figure was plucked out of the air, maybe because polls found that most Americans thought that $200,000 was reasonably rich enough to tax,” he said. “But there are a lot of dual-income families in high-cost urban areas throughout America, mostly in the [Democrat-leaning] blue states, who believe they are middle class but who will be hit by these higher rates.”

Mr. Hodge estimated “that 85 percent of those earning $200,000 a year are married couples and the majority of those are dual-income. These people appear wealthy only on paper because they live in high-cost areas and their incomes are high to cover the cost of living.”

He pointed out that “the concentration of people who earn more than $200,000 a year are in high-cost states such as New York, Massachusetts, California and Washington state” — where Mr. Kerry’s support is strong.

“Kerry is taxing his own base and George Bush is defending them. Go figure,” Mr. Hodge said.

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