Representation Without Taxation 

Back in Colonial times, the slogan "No taxation without representation" summed up a grievance of the British colonists during the years prior to 1776.    Today,  to a some extent, a reversal of this is occurring.  There is "representation without taxation," and it seems possible it could result in a real grievance.

      Quite a few of us are able to represent ourselves with votes to elect to federal office and yet pay no federal income tax. This is not a subject I've seen addressed.   It may not be a popular thing to bring up, but it should be brought up, if only because of the percentage of people involved and the impact it could have.   It could produce a unfair dynamic in the whole election process--if it hasn't already.

      According to the federal individual income tax data reported in July 2008 by the Tax Foundation, there were 135.7 million returns filed in 2006 with a positive net income.   92.7 million of these came from people who paid taxes into the treasury, while 43 million returns came from people who ended up paying no tax at all because of credits, deductions, etc.

      In the last presidential election year of 2004, I read that there were 44 million zero tax filers, those who got back everything withheld.  In addition, there were 14 million non-filers, those who didn't earn enough to file.   This adds up to 58 million income-earning households who paid no income taxes for that election year.   Each tax return often represents several more people. It was figured that roughly 122 million people were outside the federal income tax system, calculated at 44% of the population.    Another report put the figure at 41%. 

       Lets' mention a couple other figures that places this a little more in perspective: In 2006, again from federal income tax data, the top 50% paid 97.01% of the income taxes. The bottom 50% paid 2.99% of the income taxes.

       In the 2004 Presidential election the voting age population was 217.8 million, with a portion being non-citizens who were ineligible to vote.

       We all know a little more than 50% can decide an election...and that's 50% of those voting! The figures of  41% or 44% are both more than four-fifths of 50%.  In a several-way race, half between two major parties is less than 50%. The critical percent is the deciding percent. 

       There are different factors involved. But it's possible to reach a point where those who pay nothing in federal income tax, can decide the direction of government with their votes, and those who pay the taxes, end up with no say.  In effect, they are outvoted.

       Many millions have no money out of pocket and don't feel the financial pinch, and that, it seems to me, could diminish the concern of many of them about what their government does and holding it accountable for what it spends.  If Congressmen and -women had to spend their own money,  they would watch where it goes.  As it is, there is a certain remoteness from what they are spending: the totality of the federal dollars.  It would seem that a certain remoteness could occur between the non-payer and the government.

       It would be better if all of us had to pay something in federal income tax, even if it's a small amount for those of low income.   It seems to me we would be more connected to the government and more inclined to hold it accountable

.      It would also be better if we had a system, whereby instead of having tax withheld, the employer could put an equivalent amount of money into an account for the taxpayer, pay period by pay period (whereby  the taxpayer could could earn interest on his own money).  This tax account would not be touchable until tax time, when the employee would withdraw from it to pay his or her  tax liability.   The withdrawal would be only for what was put in during the year for which the tax is paid.  Any interest accrued or money left could be taken at that time.

       The American taxpayer would better see and feel the money going out of his or her pocket and into government coffers.  With withholding, we know a certain portion is kept out but we don't feel the whole chunk of tax going at once, because it's going incrementally.  In fact, we're happy to get back a refund of our own money.  That's kind of backwards.  We shouldn't have to fork it over to begin with.

        Even if it does not reach the tipping point where the taxpayer is disenfranchised in an election, we could still fairly ask whether has it already reached the point where elections are swayed, by people worrying about their benefits. These might be more subject to demagogery by a politician or by campaign rhetoric (such as: those mean-spirited ones of that other party who don't care about you).   Not that long ago I was told of an elderly person who was concerned about social security and wasn't sure how to vote.  I can see where this might go.

        Representation without taxation is alive and real in America.                        John Riedell

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