Election 2012

Morici: Taxing the Credibility of Politicians

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney
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Nothing taxes the credibility of politicians like their promises and claims about taxes, and President Obama and Governor Romney top the list for testing the credulity of voters.

Federal finances are a wreck. Spending exceeds taxes by some 50 percent, and deficits have surpassed $1 trillion four years running.

Mr. Obama and other Democrats blame Bush-era tax cuts and two wars not adequately financed, but that’s simply not so. (Read More:Obama and Romney Offer a Possible Preview of Their First Debate)

In 2007, with the Bush tax cuts in place and two wars raging, the deficit was only $161 billion. Since, Democrats in Congress and President Obama boosted spending by $1.1 trillion, mostly on new entitlements, more regulatory bureaucracy, and industrial policies—for example, aid to auto companies to develop gems like the Chevy Volt and alternative energy companies like Solyndra.

Additional outlays exceed what is required to keep pace with inflation by $726 billion, and but for bigger government, the deficit would be less than half its current size.

Now the President tells us he wants to cut taxes for regular folks and raise them for rich people to continue investing in America—after losing a quarter of the government’s investment in GM and all its cash in Solyndra perhaps he should give electric cars and blue-sky energy projects a rest.

Importantly, raising taxes on wealthy Americans and closing loop holes would only slice about 10 or 15 percent off the deficit. With nearly 50 percent of Americans paying no income taxes, to cut the deficit in half the President would have to increase the taxes paid by everyone else by 50 percent—including the waitress earning $10 an hour, struggling working families, and oh yes, Warren Buffet who brags a tax rate lower than his secretary.  (Read More:House GOP Takes Another Shot at Buffett Over Taxes)

This brings me to the real rub. The family headed by two professionals or small business owner earning $250,000 to one million dollars a year is not the problem—many of those folks already fork over 25 to 30 percent in federal income taxes. Rather, it’s investors like Mr. Buffet and private equity partners who earn their money wheeling and dealing, and high tech entrepreneurs, Wall Street bankers and corporate executives who get paid in stock options—those folks manage a tax rate that is about half what professional families and small business owners pay. (Read More:Which States Are Donating the Most?)

Repeatedly, President Obama and other Democrats harp about fixing the provisions that let America’s aristocracy off easy but never get it done. No doubt, campaign fundraising in the Silicon Valley, on Wall Street, and among industry executives benefiting from the President’s industrial policies is a distraction.

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Governor Romney promises to cut income and corporate tax rates across-the-board and eliminate taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act. All financed by closing loopholes and special breaks totaling nearly $500 billion.

Considering the combined federal take from the personal and corporate income taxes is about $1.4 trillion, his strategy requires eliminating the middle class’s most cherished benefits—including the deductibility of mortgage interest and local property taxes—and ending the “carried interest” provision and rules for stock options. Those latter gems permit private equity partners, like him, and corporate executives to pay much lower taxes than many ordinary folks—even some school teachers.

Hardly a believable plan!

In 2011, Governor Romney paid about 14 percent on an income of $13.7 million—that’s half what the owner of a luncheonette, working along side his wife 80 hours a week, can expect to pay.

Mr. Romney is vague—nay obtuse—about which loopholes he would close, and the carried interest and similar provisions are never even whispered.

For sure, whoever is elected, tax rules that permit wealthy folks like Warren Buffet and Mitt Romney to pay half the rate that small businesses and many others pay will continue—and continue to be abused.

Peter Morici is a professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, and former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission.