It’s the type of news that should but won’t help fizzle the Tea Party anger here and elsewhere over its caricature of President Barack Obama. The Associated Press reported Monday that Americans now pay less in federal taxes than under former President George W. Bush and that federal taxes “as a share of the national economy” are the lowest since 1950.
According to the AP:
The poor economy is largely to blame, with corporate profits down and unemployment up. But so is a tax code that grows each year with new deductions, credits and exemptions. The result is that families making as much as $50,000 can avoid paying federal income taxes, if they have at least two dependent children. Low-income families can actually make a profit from the income tax, and the wealthy can significantly cut their payments.
Note the last sentence: “Low-income families can actually make a profit from the income tax, and the wealthy can significantly cut their payments.”
The paragraph doesn’t specifically mention the huge federal tax cuts for the wealthy extended under the Obama administration or corporations that use offshore banks and addresses to avoid paying taxes altogether. Let’s face it. Americans, whether poor, middle-class or wealthy, have not become more overtaxed under the Obama administration. It’s just the complete opposite.
But what about Oklahoma? Using 2008 estimates, residents here pay an average of about 9.8 percent of their income in taxes, according to The Tax Foundation, which puts the national average at 9.7 percent. Meanwhile, according to the organization, residents here enjoy some of the lowest property tax rates in the nation.
Then there’s this from TFA:
Oklahoma taxpayers receive more federal funding per dollar of federal taxes paid than the average state. Per dollar of Federal tax collected in 2005, Oklahoma citizens received approximately $1.36 in the way of federal spending. This ranks the state 15th highest nationally. This represent a rise from 1995 when Oklahoma received $1.30 per dollar of taxes in federal spending, ranking it 11th highest. Neighboring states and the amount of federal money received per dollar of federal taxes collected were: Kansas ($1.12), Colorado ($0.81), New Mexico ($2.03), Texas ($0.94), Arkansas ($1.41), and Missouri ($1.32).
So we’re paying an average amount in taxes, less under Obama than Bush, the wealthy got the most bang for the buck from recent income tax cuts here and we collectively receive more back from the federal government than we pay it. We enjoy extremely low property taxes, which benefits both owners and renters. We’re even going to pay less in income taxes next year when a small automatic decrease kicks in.
Why, then, does the impression persist that Obama has raised taxes or has redistributed wealth or that Oklahomans, in particular, are overtaxed? The right-wing media here and nationally are probably primarily to blame, but GOP leaders here are also masters at manipulating sentiment with reductionist sloganeering. The truth is that Oklahomans don’t pay an exorbitant amount in taxes, and the state is really one of the last places in the world where you’ll find any empowered “tax and spend” liberals. Sure, we can “right-size” government on the backs of students and the needy, but it’s not because we’re overtaxed on some historical or contemporary level.
Most people don’t like to pay taxes. We want money to provide for family and ourselves. That’s as basic as it gets. But most people also like nice roads and good schools and superior police and fire protection. We want prisons to lock up the bad guys. We want efficient government services. These things cost money.
There will always be a tension between the dislike of taxes and the need for the collective good. It’s a balance. Decent, far-sighted political leaders understand this tension and approach it responsibly. Let’s hope those types of leaders step up this year in the Republican-dominated Oklahoma Legislature.