Restructure the Tax Code
This is part of an Economic Security Plan that I proposed during my 1996 campaign for U.S. Senate. Consider the time-frame when reading this piece. The current wage cap on Social Security is now $90,000.
Somewhere along the line during the recent years of ''tax reform,'' we lost the concept of a progressive income tax, the concept that income taxes should be based on fairness and the ability to pay. As a result, the gap between rich and poor in America is growing ever wider.
We can correct this imbalance, and restore fairness in our tax system, by taking the following actions:
1. Change the personal exemption in the Federal Income Tax code to index it to the full-time federal minimum wage (what you would earn if you worked at the minimum wage 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year). Use this minimum annual gross income to establish the level at which an individual starts paying federal income taxes.
The loss in federal revenue under this plan would be made up by revising the tax brackets upward on higher levels of income.
The present personal exemption in the federal income tax code is too low.
When the federal budget was balanced some 25 years ago, the highest tax brackets for the ultra-wealthy were between 70 and 90 percent.
When those higher tax brackets disappeared, the burden to fill the national treasury fell to the lower and middle class.
Under this Economic Security Plan, with the personal exemption tied to the minimum wage, a person who makes less than the minimum annual gross income would pay no federal income taxes.
2. Use the same minimum annual gross income to establish the level at which Social Security premiums begin to be deducted from an individual's pay. People making less than the minimum annual gross income would not pay Social Security premiums.
The loss in revenue to the Social Security Trust Fund under this plan would be made up by eliminating the cap on Social Security premium payments.
Income tax tables are set up to allow for personal exemptions and dependents. Social Security payroll taxes are not. Once you earn $400 each year, Social Security taxes are paid from the first dollar earned, regardless of the family situation. Many low-income people pay far more in Social Security premiums every year than they do in income taxes.
Yet on the other end, because of the cap on Social Security payments, high-wage earners stop paying premiums once they have reached the cap (currently $61,200). Corporate CEOs pay the same amount as one of their middle-level managers who earns $61,200. And those middle-level managers pay the same rate as do the minimum wage workers who clean the offices at night.
With its constant rate regardless of ability to pay, the Social Security payment is regressive without the cap. The cap makes it the most regressive burden facing most wage earners.
Someone living in poverty should not be paying Social Security premiums to the government, because they need every penny to pay day-to-day living expenses. By the same token, million-dollar CEOs, entertainers, and athletes should be paying their Social Security premiums on every dollar they earn above the minimum.
3. Eliminate the home-mortgage interest deduction.
The home-mortgage interest deduction is in reality a bank subsidy. It artificially reduces the effective cost of borrowing money against one's residence, but does so on the backs of the American taxpayer. Many banks will calculate the interest rate, and then the actual effective rate, factoring in the tax bracket of the loan applicant. With income tax brackets of 22 and 28 percent, American taxpayers are picking up the tab for about one-fourth of the interest paid on those loans.
Like the federal government, American consumers must be weaned of their debt. While home ownership needs to be encouraged as part of the American dream, and programs for first-time and low-income borrowers maintained, America needs to get back to the idea that a mortgage is a debt to be paid off.
Interest on home-mortgage and home-equity loans should be paid in after-tax dollars, not be subsidized by renters and those who have worked hard to stay out of debt themselves.
4. Eliminate the standard deduction.
With health care costs folded into other programs and mortgage interest removed as an allowable deduction, most of the reasons for a standard deduction disappear. Charitable contributions, local and state taxes, and other deductions would still be allowed, but would have to be itemized to be claimed.
5. Tax capital gains as ordinary income.
Income is income. It is not fair for earned income to be taxed at a higher rate than unearned income from capital gains. The risks investors take in speculating on securities are voluntary risks, and often pale with the risks to life and limb the average worker faces at the job site each day.