Tax Reform; What about the Freedom to Choose?

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 26, 2008 | Go to article overview

Tax Reform; What about the Freedom to Choose?


Byline: Sam Brownback, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

As we debate the important matter of an economic stimulus package, I hope those of us setting policy in Washington do not lose sight of the need for fundamental tax reform. While immediate efforts to stimulate growth are important, a permanent reform that addresses the labyrinth complexity and unsupportable burdens of the tax code is absolutely essential to maintain a dynamic and growing economy.

Beyond the maze of tax rules and regulations stand two realities: First, current tax rates for many low- and middle-income Americans have declined in recent decades. In 2008, even without tax rebates, some 41 million out of 139 million (30 percent) returns will have no income-tax liability. That doesn't include an additional 15 million to 20 million taxpayers who do not or are not required to file. Second, navigating the complex code to take advantage of those lower rates is an anxiety-inducing and burdensome process.

There is one thing that virtually every American believes: The tax code is unfair and incomprehensible. The hard-working factory worker believes the tax code is filled with loopholes to benefit wealthier Americans. Families who are rich only by the government's standard puzzle over the inequity of 20 percent of American families paying 86 percent of all federal income taxes and 69 percent of all federal taxes.

While lower rates are a positive development, why does the government subject people to such a complex process? Wouldn't we all be happier if we didn't require expert help to determine our federal tax liability? From these two considerations, and a third - that these lower rates will increase if the Bush tax cuts expire in 2011 - arises my legislation, Freedom to Choose Tax Reform Act (S.2518). This concept begins with the proposition that many Americans detest the complexity of federal tax laws and would welcome a simplified system that imposes an equal or lower tax liability.

After several years of work and analysis by the Joint Economic Committee and others, I developed this family friendly, pro-growth tax alternative as a first step toward meaningful and permanent tax reform.

The Freedom to Choose Tax Reform proposal would offer an optional, two-rate (10 percent, 23 percent) tax system. Under the reform, a taxpayer's income up to $102,000 of income (the 2008 Social Security earnings cap) would be subject to an income tax of only 10 percent; income above $102,000 would be subject to an income tax of 23 percent.

To keep the system simple, no deductions, exemptions or credits would be allowed, except for a $1,000 individual tax credit that would increase each year with price inflation. The credit would be available for each tax filer, the tax filer's spouse and each person in the tax filer's household who is a dependent. This could include children, family members with disabilities and elderly parents.

My reform can succeed where others have failed because we are not attacking the tax code head-on. Individuals would be allowed to choose whether they want to pay their income tax under Freedom to Choose Tax Reform or the old system. This is similar to the successful Hong Kong tax model where individuals have a choice under which system they want to file. …

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