Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tax Day!

This year, Barack Obama claimed a $5.5 million dollar income but paid only 10% tax on it. How is that possible? Well, he had overpaid about 8K and then had quite a bit of charitable donations to claim. Still ... 10%?

Chelle and I live comfortably but not extravagantly. When I tell people that together we make six figures, people think we're rich, but when I remind them we live in the San Francisco Bay Area (which means everything is pricier), they realize we're not. Rent on our two-bedroom condo is about $2100 monthly, which is about...oh, three times more than the payment on a four-bedroom house I was part owner of when I lived in Ohio.

I don't mind paying taxes. I've gotten my fair share of help from the government in the form of a free public education that was good enough to get me into college; my keep was paid for when I was in foster care for three years; a good portion of my college education was funded via government grants and guaranteed student loans. I use my local library; I'm glad we have decent local police and fire departments. Even my job is partly possible because I teach at a public community college, which is largely funded by state money.

But nobody likes giving such a big chunk of their annual salary away when they see rich people and wealthy corporations getting away with (legally) paying less in tax, percentage-wise, than the average Jane and Joe do. For instance, Exxon Corporation made $42.5 BILLION dollars in profit in 2008. How much tax did they pay the United States? I can't find what they paid in 2008, but I did find out that in 2009, they paid absolutely NOTHING in U.S. taxes. Zero. Zilch. Neither did G.E., who apparently brings good things to no one but themselves.

Rich individuals do much the same thing, moving money around, offsetting "gains" and "losses" and finding ways to pay as little as they possibly can. Tax law is always trying to chase these practices around, playing catch up, but once they close one loophole, it seems like other ones pop up. Don't get me wrong. Like the Obamas, many wealthy people fund charities, so I'm not saying they all lack any sense of responsibility to their fellow human beings, but let's not forget these are all tax write-offs. In a sense they at least get to pick where their "tax money" goes.

I don't. And it irks me that my hard-earned cash goes towards things like funding wars I disagree with.

Still, in the balance, we did see the health care reform bill pass this year, although it didn't include the public option. I figure as more Baby Boomers age, get sick, and are bankrupted by their illnesses, more of the American public may change their thinking on the public option and start agitating for universal health care in America.

The Teabaggers are protesting today, and I understand their frustration at paying taxes (though thus far Obama hasn't raised their taxes--we didn't pay any more this year than we did last year), but I think their anger is misplaced. Sarah Palin, Miss Queen of the Earmarks, would have you think she's on your side, but hey. She was all for the Bridge to Nowhere until she wasn't. She accepted federal money hand over fist until it became popular to say she didn't. She likes the political process--when it works in her favor. These same Teabagger types didn't mind the Patriot Act and the war with Iraq. So I'm still not sure I really follow their logic on health care for all. And I'm sorry to have to point out this fact, but it's a fact: a lot of their rhetoric mimics the same rhetoric of the Timothy McVeighs and the white supremacist movement in this country, so they'd better deal with the reality that they've got some strange bedfellows.

One thing's clear. When it comes to tax law, we have an imperfect system. We need to keep the dialogue going. The violence we can live without. And the godforsaken line at the Post Office today I can also live without. Lord! It took me a half hour to get through it, and then I had to pony up another $17 to pay for certified mail, return receipt, and postage for a packet to the IRS and another to the State Franchise Board. Yeah, with something like my tax returns, I don't trust the postal service quite enough to get it right. Ah, the irony.

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