Tuesday, November 13, 2012
LET'S DO SOMETHING RIGHT FOR A CHANGE
There has been a lot of talk lately about “tax expenditures” and the 47% of Americans who either pay absolutely no federal income tax or actually make a profit by filing a tax return (thanks to “refundable” tax credits).
Over the years the idiots in Congress have created a mucking fess of the Tax Code by making it the method of delivery for various social welfare benefits and to encourage certain beneficial purchases, which has created the 47%. This is certainly not the best, nor the most efficient, way to deliver or distribute these benefits – but it is easy. And, as we all know, the idiots in Congress are all for choosing the quickest and easiest way to do things rather than actually having to sit down and think.
While there are many “tax expenditures” that should be completely done away with, many of the social and societal benefit programs run through the Code are actually good and have merit. But they should be delivered and distributed separately out of the budget of the appropriate cabinet department – and not on the 1040.
As I have posted here before, doing this is much “more better” for many reasons -
(1) It would be easier for the government to verify that the recipient of the subsidy or hand-out actually qualified for the money, greatly reducing fraud. And tax preparers would no longer need to take on the added responsibility of having to verify if a person qualified for government funds.
(2) The qualifying individual(s) would get the money at the “point of purchase”, when it is really needed, and not have to go “out of pocket” up front and wait to be reimbursed when they file their tax return.
(3) We would be able to calculate the true income tax burden of individuals. Many of the current 47% would still be receiving government hand-outs, but it would not be tied into the income tax system so they would actually be paying federal income tax.
(4) We could measure the true cost of education, housing, health, welfare, etc programs in the federal budget because the various subsidies would be properly allocated to the appropriate departments and not be reported as a part of net income collected via income tax.
(5) The Tax Code would be much less complicated, the cost to the public for preparing a tax return would be reduced, and the IRS would have much less to process and to audit.
Item (2) is a very important one. A major problem with using the Tax Code to distribute government benefits via tax deductions and credits is that the benefits are provided “after-the-fact” and not at the “point of purchase”.
Let’s look at the deductions and credits for tuition and fees. In order to claim these tax benefits the student, or more likely his/her parents, must spend the money for tuition and fees and then wait until they file their tax return to get the “student financial aid” from the government.
These students, and parents, need the money when the tuition and fees are due. If they do not have it at the point of purchase they often turn to borrowing, placing themselves further in debt.
There is currently in place a process for providing student financial aid at the point of purchase. And this aid is based on student and family income, using information from tax returns. Instead of giving those who qualify a tax deduction or credit on their Form 1040 a year or more later, why not give the same benefit, based on the same income formula, as part of the existing student financial aid system. This way the student, or parents, gets the money upfront to pay for college expenses or, better yet, the money is distributed directly to the college - and there is no need for additional borrowing.
In the past there have been credits for purchasing energy-efficient products and improvements, and some still exist. But again, the money is provided after-the-fact – as much as a year or more after the purchase. I would think more individuals would be encouraged to purchase these items if the money was provided upfront as a point of purchase discount. Again individuals who want to take advantage of the eventual tax credit may be forced to borrow money to make the qualifying purchase, creating more debt.
The “Cash for Clunkers” program of a few years back proves that this can be done relatively efficiently.
And, as I have said over and over again, the Earned Income Tax Credit, refundable and otherwise, and refundable Child Tax Credit, which, if you call a spade a shovel, are really forms of welfare, would be better distributed via the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program – and with substantially less fraud.
Unfortunately, with BO re-elected and the members of Congress being the idiots they are, don’t expect any changes in the current system any time soon.