Tax on Democrats
Daniel Gross has a strange piece in Slate arguing that the Alternative Minimum Tax is a secret Republican plot to screw over Democrats.
The AMT traces its origins to a minimum tax enacted in 1970 when Americans were scandalized to learn that some 155 high-earning taxpayers owed no income taxes in 1966. The AMT was originally designed so that people who had a lot of income but loads of deductionsÃ¢€”through the standard exemption, the ability to write off property taxes and state income taxesÃ¢€”couldn’t reduce their taxable income to next to nothing. Historically, it applied to a tiny minority of taxpayers. But with every passing year, more and more citizens are ushered behind the velvet ropes. This congressional backgrounder suggests that 1.8 million Americans paid it in 2001. Newsweek‘s nearly infallible Allan Sloan wrote earlier this month that “about 2.3 million returns for 2003 got nipped by the AMT.” The numbers are set to rise exponentially in the next several years. A two-income couple in New JerseyÃ¢€”he’s an accountant, she’s a public school teacherÃ¢€”with combined income of $230,000, three kids, and annual property taxes of $15,000, could easily fall into paying the AMT. Even government bureaucrats get nailed.
So, let’s get this straight. A tax initiated by a Democratic Congress (albeit signed by a Republican president) 34 years ago is a secret plot by the Bush Administration to screw over people making $230,000 a year. Who, under pretty much any definition–Democrat or otherwise–are “wealthy.”
While Republicans are patting themselves on the back for reducing marginal taxes, they’ve been oddly silent about how the AMT excludes millions of AmericansÃ¢€”and relatively well-off ones at thatÃ¢€”from the benefits of the tax cuts. Here’s a theory: Could it be because those most likely to fall prey to the AMT live in states that Bush-Cheney ’04 has already written off?
Now, could you imagine Bush proposing that we cut this tax that’s unfairly making people who make $200,000 to $500,000 a year, who would otherwise pay next to no federal taxes because they’re getting big deductions on their million dollar homes, actually pay some tax? Tax cuts for the rich! Ordinary Americans don’t make that kind of money! Republicans don’t care about the little guy!
Now, I’m not arguing that this tax is a good idea. Indeed, it strikes me as a strange idea–I’ve said so two months ago. But let’s quit pretending that everything that has a disproportionate effect was intended malevolently. Indeed, the same argument that’s being made against the AMT–that it hurts people living in places with high property values–could be said of the graduated income tax–or, indeed, the income tax, period–since incomes tend to be artificially higher in places where housing prices are higher.