- - Thursday, April 14, 2016


Tax Day arrives a little late this year, giving Americans a three-day reprieve from the annual pain of sending the U.S. Treasury an arm and a leg, without gift-wrapping. The day of dread is April 18, owing to the District of Columbia’s Emancipation Day, falling on April 16, a Saturday, entitling D.C.’s federal workers to take a three-day weekend. A short extension from the usual April 15 deadline hardly soothes the pain. Taxpayers have no choice but to long for an emancipation day when the nation returns to the fiscal restraint their forebears demanded.

Tax Freedom Day, on the other hand, arrives this year on April 24. That’s the 114th day of 2016, when the taxpayer has earned enough and paid enough to satisfy his combined tax bill for another year, according to the calculations of the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. Americans from coast to coast owe $3.3 trillion in federal taxes and $1.6 trillion in state and local taxes, bringing their total invoice to almost $5 trillion. A trillion here and a trillion there and pretty soon we’re talking about real money. That’s more than Americans will spend on housing, food and clothing combined. The U.S. Treasury collected nearly $1.5 trillion in inflation-adjusted revenue during the past six months, a record.

There’s the option of living in a low-tax jurisdiction. Tax Freedom Day has come and gone in Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama, enabling residents to pocket their paychecks for the rest of the year. It’s the tax traps in the east that punish harshest. New Yorkers will work for the tax collector for another month, and Connecticut residents will struggle in hock to the tax man until May 21.

Today’s levels of taxation would have been considered a form of servitude by the early Americans. In the days before the Revolution the New Englanders paid only 1 to 2 percent of their income to the British crown, but that was enough to send them to Boston Harbor for a tea party. The 16th Amendment, which bequeathed the federal income tax in 1913, at first required taxpayers to pay only 1 percent of their annual earnings up to $20,000. The sum at risk today is more than $460,000, and a taxpayer earning that is taxed at the top rate of 39.6 percent.

There’s hope for relief, though, if voters choose wisely in November. Each of the remaining Republican candidates offers something for the tax-oppressed. Donald Trump proposes consolidating the current seven tax brackets to four, topping out at 25 percent for ordinary income. Ted Cruz prescribes a flat rate of 10 percent, and John Kasich would establish three brackets with the highest earners paying 25 percent. All three schemes would enable taxpayers to keep more of what is rightly theirs.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both propose tax reforms that advance the collectivist philosophy much favored by President Obama. Mrs. Clinton would maintain the current tax brackets, but enact a 4 percent surcharge on the wealthy, and Mr. Sanders, in keeping with his unabashed socialist dreams, wants to raise each of the existing percentages of what the government takes by 2.2 percent, pushing the top rate to a stunning 52 percent.

Tax Freedom Day is a moving goal and the taxpayer is the moving target. The government has many marksmen, and they all take good aim. Taxpayer, beware.

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