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Jason Lewis

Jason Lewis

file, Star Tribune

Jason Lewis: The rich pay the taxes -- that's a fact

  • Article by: JASON LEWIS
  • April 2, 2011 - 7:21 PM

Commentary

They say this is the best time of the year for spectator sports. March Madness, spring baseball and, of course, the Masters.

Yet for sheer drama, what could be more fun than watching Minnesota liberals twist, contort and massage the data from the Department of Revenue's biennial Tax Incidence Study?

OK, OK -- maybe it's not quite as exciting as Phil Mickelson's miraculous shot on the back nine at Augusta last year, but this part of the great Minnesota tax debate is always the most entertaining.

Every two years the department releases its study, ostensibly designed to show the state's overall tax burden. And every two years, the tax-and-spend crowd proclaims that the rich are getting off easy.

Gov. Mark Dayton and his fellow "progressives" have been busy pointing to the study in support of their $3 billion tax hike on the state's top 5 percent of income earners.

Not only has the governor proposed raising the top rate to 10.95 percent (higher than California or New York), but he initially wanted an additional 3 percent surcharge for those with incomes above $500,000 -- giving Minnesota the highest state income tax rate in the nation.

Forgetting for a moment the massive amounts of business income these taxes will hit (revenue from non-C corporations flows to individual tax returns) -- even then, the premise upon which this class warfare is based remains fundamentally flawed.

The left cites the study's findings on taxes as a percent of income as a measure of tax fairness.

Thus, should your household income go up, why, so should your taxes, lest the burden of government fall disproportionately on those left behind. Since sales and property taxes don't rise with earnings, income taxes must be raised to offset this windfall for the "fortunate few."

But can you imagine any business entity charging you a fee based on your salary and not on what they actually provide? It is quite true that the wealthy have more disposable income, but then again, it's also quite true they pay a smaller portion of their income for everyday living expenses as well.

So what?

For those truly interested in discovering who really pays the taxes in Minnesota, the data are right there in the Tax Incidence Study. Calculating the tax burden for 2008 (the latest year available) by income range shows quite a different story than Dayton & Co. would have you believe.

Just 10 percent of taxpayers (households with incomes above $129,567) paid 56 percent of all income taxes collected.

But that's not all: They also paid "27 percent of the consumer sales tax, 27.5 percent of the gross homeowner property tax, and 29.5 percent of business taxes," according to the study.

In fact, the top 5 percent of income earners paid almost as much in income taxes as did the bottom 90 percent. Moreover, those in the bottom 20 percent -- far from incurring any income tax liability -- actually received government checks totaling more than $40 million in refundable tax credits.

The story isn't any different nationally. The Tax Policy Center estimates that the bottom 45 percent of households have been removed from the federal income tax rolls entirely.

Of course, none of this suggests the poor have it easy; it simply means that their plight has little to do with tax code.

Jason Lewis is a nationally syndicated talk-show host based in Minneapolis-St. Paul and is the author of "Power Divided is Power Checked: The Argument for States' Rights" from Bascom Hill Publishing. He can be heard locally from 5 to 8 p.m. weeknights on KTLK Radio, 100.3-FM.

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