As Tax Day approaches, Americans are reminded once again of how complicated our tax code has become. On top of being a nuisance to families and businesses, each year, Americans spend billions of dollars and more than 225 million collective hours doing their taxes. If filing your federal taxes is frustrating, you are not alone. Over decades, our tax code grew more complex, filled with loopholes and rules written into law for big businesses and those with the greatest means.
Owing in part to these specialized provisions, the average after-tax income of the top one percent of income earners has risen nearly four-fold since 1979. This distorted system forces businesses and individuals to make decisions based on the highest tax write-off; instead of pursuing the strategies that best help them grow and create jobs.
And the situation is not getting better for the remaining 99 percent of taxpayers. Today, nearly one-quarter of all millionaires enjoy a lower tax rate than millions of middle-income taxpayers. Not only is this unfair, it is bad policy at a time when our government faces a growing deficit and cuts to key programs.
President Obama discussed the inequity in our tax code in his State of the Union Address earlier this year, citing the well-known millionaire Warren Buffett who pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. This week, the President again called for Congress to pass a bill that includes the “Buffett Rule.” The change would level the playing field, ensuring those making more than $1 million a year pay at least the same tax rate as middle class families.
Standing in stark contrast to the President’s Buffett Rule is the Republican budget proposal put forward by Congressman Paul Ryan. This bill gives over $4 trillion in tax cuts to the wealthiest in exchange for deep cuts to critical federal programs, like Medicare, Pell Grants and Food Stamps, which help seniors and low-income families. This winner-take-all mentality is not good for the nation and damages the important programs that got our country to where it is today.
While lawmakers in Congress debate future changes to the tax code, the April 17th deadline is fast approaching. In Falls Church, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax preparation until April 14th for residents making less than $50,000 a year.
If you need additional help to file your federal income taxes, stop by one of these VITA sites this Saturday: Thomas Jefferson Library , Saturday, 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., 7415 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church; Falls Church Skillsource, Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m., 6245 Leesburg Pike, #315, Falls Church; Homestretch, Inc., Saturday, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., 370 S. Washington St., Falls Church.
Our tax code has grown increasingly unfair and complex. Enacting the Buffett Rule is a good step in the right direction. Both political parties have previously called for a simpler tax code, and it will take both Republicans and Democrats working together to make the tax code fair for all Americans.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.