What about those 47 percent Mitt Romney says pay no income tax?

Do nearly half of all Americans have no skin in the game when it comes to taxes?

As with all things political in an election, there are shades of the truth. Nearly half do not pay any income tax. They pay lots of other taxes, both directly and indirectly.
Democrats right now are all over Mitt Romney like the pack of dogs gnawing on the  turkey in that holiday favorite, “A Christmas Story.” That’s politics. It was rather clumsy of Romney to identify the 47 percent of people who pay no income tax as supporters of Barack Obama who believe they are victims entitled to something from the government. That isn’t true. There are disabled veterans, senior citizens and, certainly, poor people on that list.

But amid the political dog pile, no one seems to be paying attention to the real issue here. Romney touched on it, but even he isn’t grasping hold. It is that the U.S. tax code is in drastic need of revision.

To say the code has reached Biblical proportions is to exaggerate the Bible. Experts disagree on how many words it contains. The Tax Foundation puts it at about 10 million. The Bible has only 774,746.

And those 10 million words aren’t nearly as uplifting or full of hope.

I would venture to say no one single person understands the entire code. Millions have to hire someone to prepare their tax forms each year.

Is that the best way to fund a treasury?

Back to those 47 percent (The Tax Policy Center puts it at 46 percent).  About half of them are below the poverty line. A lot of the rest take advantage of tax credits and various deductions, and some of them are wealthy people who earn much of their money from investments or capital gains.

It is legitimate to question whether even the poor should pay a nominal amount of income tax, just so they can have a legitimate stake in the issues surrounding the tax and what it funds.

The problem with that is the poor do already pay plenty in other taxes. Why does their exemption from one tax alone disqualify them from understanding the burdens of taxation?

No, what Romney and Obama both ought to address is how inefficient and unfair the income tax has become and to propose plans for its revision. The odd thing is that Romney chose a running mate with a record of addressing tough budget problems with radical proposals. Questions about income tax reform and fairness should be right in his wheelhouse.

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

8 comments

  1. Dan

    I suspect that few of those people are purposeful non income tax payers and many do not even know they don’t pay income tax. A working poor person gets a page full of mysterious numbers with a detachable check on the bottom from his employer on payday. The real important number is the one on the check, which tells him how much he has to survive on until the next payday.

  2. Ron Lewis

    Jay the point is the President is suggesting an increased percentage of income tax for those that already pay the lion’s share of that tax. It would be interesting to see how those that don’t pay income tax participate in the voting process. This should be studied both in terms of the percentage voting and for which party. Probably, not possible to easily do such a study. My guess is if we made an effort as a society to make all participate at some level with income tax payment, their activity in the voting process would increase.

  3. MN

    Ron,

    The tax code is obviously in need of a major overhaul.

    But the issue here is that Romney believes that half the country doesn’t pay taxes, and that all those people are Obama supporters.

    In fact, even the working poor still pay state, local, property and sales taxes, as well as other miscellaneous taxes.
    Even more interesting, of the half that don’t pay federal income taxes, many of those people are Romney supporters. A huge swath of the Republican base is lower income, but the bigger news is that people like Romney himself do not pay much in federal income taxes.

    Nobody wants the middle to upper-middle class to pay the lion’s share of taxes, but that’s how it is now. If Romney’s elected, I would suppose that he will act to essentially eliminate taxes for rich people with the excuse being that they are “job creators”. To offset this, he would increase taxes on the poor and on the middle class.

  4. Chester Brough

    it is interesting that someone in a small room with only private donars are invited their to speak to their political candidate, can a journalist sit in a room, not relate who they are, take a hiidden video and then have it placed on national television without a thought if it is ethical, or if the journalist might needs tell people who they are, or willfully misrepresent their purpose especially when this is not really a open public event; it is clearly geared for donars.

    Linda Tripp was indicted for recording phone conversations with Ms. Monica L. and President Clinton;privacy was at least discussed in the press; now it seems anything goes, and a one line comment to friends, not really completed or explained is blown up to throw any wrench into the his quest for the Presidency.

    Michelle Obama was caught saying “she hated America”, and the president spoke when a Microphone was open revealing his thoughts, a one line comment that sounded very bias. Journalist have no ethical character, no love for truth, just a sound bite. The President can protect himself from any unwanted person, and avoid statement that might compromise, but the candidate is fair game to clearly a bias press.

  5. maddy

    My guess is many people living in UT would agree that paying 10% of income for tithing is equitable and fair. Everybody pays the same percentage on their income. However, if we looked at the results, the wealthy would be paying the greatest percentage of tithing collected, because they have significantly higher incomes. So, clearly we can’t rely on which groups pay the largest percentage of taxes collected to determine what is fair. When all taxes are taken into account, low wage earners do pay a significant amount in taxes as a percentage of their income.

    re:Chester
    Michelle Obama never stated she hated America. As for the source of the recent Romney tape? It is believed to have been recorded by someone working at the fundraiser. Furthermore, the whole tape was released, not just a sound bite.

  6. winnie green

    Somehow I was not supervised to find out that most of my family fits into Mitt Romney’s 74%. My elderly mom aunts and uncial’s, some WW2 vets, My brother who is a Vietnam vet my other brother and the list goes on none of them made the money that Romney calls Victims. since when do people who work hard all their lives raise family’s and now receive pensions Medicare and so on. Their Romney’s Victims because they did not make $$$, I fall into that as well so this 74% is registered to vote and Romney lost my vote long ago. ONE thought to add, Mitt Romney is not “his brothers keeper” Genesis 4:10 shame on him. All the cash in the world is going to keep his foot out of his mouth

    Mitt and Ryan would happily redistribute your wealth just as much as Obama. The only difference in the regard is where the wealth is going. Under Obama your “redistributed wealth” goes to required people who paid into social security, soldiers,and yes, the needy. If Mitt/Ryan had their way they would redistribute your wealth to people who are already wealthy and corporations

  7. LDS Liberal

    When 1% owns 80% of the wealth,
    Then that same 1% should also be paying 80% of the taxes.

    If you don’t want to redistribute that wealth tot he poor and middle classes, fine.
    Just stop trying to redistributed the tax burden to the poor and middle classes.

    Where much is given, much is expected.

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