That’s Why We Call the Tax “Progressive”
Steven Colucci, a public school psychologist (I’m pretty sure), had a letter in the August 12 Providence Journal raising a point that comes up from time to time:
[In a previously published letter, Keith Garrison] notes that the top 1 percent pay 37 percent of the total income taxes. Mr. Garrison makes a couple of egregious errors. In order to compare apples with apples, I would prefer to know what proportion of the income of this top 1 percent goes to taxes, compared with the rest of us …
Secondly, he wrongly suggests that small businesses would be hurt by a tax increase and that jobs would be lost. He curiously leaves out that the tax increase is on personal income and is not a business tax.
I understand that using the word “egregious” can spark a little burst of pleasure, but one should be extremely careful with logic and assertions of fact when deploying it. For one thing, that Mr. Colucci “would prefer to know” one thing doesn’t mean that citation of the other thing is an error. Moreover, surely somebody with the time to write and send a letter to the Projo also has the time to do some quick research.
If Colucci had done so, he might have paused long enough to remember that people talk about the progressiveness of various taxes, and that income tax is heavily weighted against the rich. That is, they naturally pay more of their income in income taxes. At least in 2007, taxpayers earning over $200,000 per year made 24% of Rhode Island’s income but paid 40% of its total income taxes.
Perhaps he’d argue that other taxes ought to be considered as well, which is ground that I covered in 2008. There, he’d find that it’s true that families with higher income pay a smaller percentage of their income in total state and local taxes, but that’s because things like property and sales taxes aren’t calculated on income, but on the value of the item purchased, and such taxes will take up a larger proportion of a smaller income.
The most regressive tax, in this regard, is the excise tax category (such as on cigarettes, gas, and alcohol). According to the table at the above link, the lowest income quintile payed 4.9% of its income in excise taxes, but the portion for the top 1% of earners was 0.3% of income. Put that in dollar figures, though, and you’re comparing $411.60 for the lower category and $2,361 for the higher (and remember that we’re comparing 20% of people with 1% of people). For sales taxes, the number is $268,80 versus $3,148.
One suspects that, for Colucci, nothing will be fair until people who’ve worked hard to have comfortable incomes are taxed such that nobody, regardless of merit, has any less disposable income.
As to the second paragraph that I quoted above, I’d suggest that Mr. Colucci ought to familiarize himself a little bit more with the methods of income taxes. For multiple categories of businesses (sole proprietor, S-Corp, and so on), business income appears as personal income. Unarmed with that knowledge leads Colucci to make his own egregious error.