• Why not cheat?
    May 25,2013

    It would be reasonable to suggest that all Americans want their government, be it federal, state or local, to provide essential services and to do so efficiently. It seems equally reasonable to suggest that we all want the costs of government to be assessed fairly.

    However, there’s no denying two truths about the present American tax climate: The first is that the very word “tax” is fraught with partisan passion. In fact, some appear to treat it as a four-letter word. The second is that, regrettably, there’s plain-to-see evidence that our government, at all levels, doesn’t always provide essential services in as efficient a manner as it should.

    Given those two truths, it is inevitable that the entire subject of taxation is riddled with controversy. And when individuals such as powerful lobbyist Grover Norquist work tirelessly to persuade our elected officials to reduce taxes or at the very least avoid raising them, no matter what, the level of controversy heats up and divides the American people.

    It is against this climate of controversy that the American public must examine the recent disclosures that Apple Inc., the hugely popular technology giant, has adroitly embraced the low-tax policies of Ireland to avoid paying much higher taxes in the United States.

    Floyd Norris, a New York Times columnist, addressed the issue in Friday’s edition: “The shameful thing about Apple Inc.’s ability to structure its business to avoid United States taxes was not that it did it,” he wrote. “The shameful thing is that we have a tax system that seems to allow multinational companies to choose what they want to pay.”

    Norris added that while the cost to the American government — and the American taxpayers — is important, the more critical element is that “the ability of the rich and well connected to duck taxes can have a corrosive effect on the attitudes of the rest of us.” And these attitudes, as we noted, are not exactly positive right now.

    “If others who are better off than you can get away with not paying taxes, why shouldn’t you look for a way to cheat on your taxes?” he wrote.

    The big news, he continued, was that “Apple had found a way to move a large part of its income to subsidiaries that claimed to not exist anywhere, at least when it came to paying taxes.”

    That’s just the most prominent tax story of the week. The sad fact is that the tax code of the United States is so complex and so riddled with loopholes and exceptions (many of them hand-crafted by influential lobbyists) that there is no way to expect fairness for all when it comes to paying for the services we expect (and need) from our government.

    Elsewhere in Friday’s New York Times it was reported that “bank lobbyists are not leaving it to lawmakers to draft legislation that softens financial regulations.” Instead, the report continued, the lobbyists are helping to write the legislation themselves.

    “Two crucial paragraphs, prepared in conjunction with other Wall Street banks, were copied nearly word for word” in the proposed legislation, the newspaper reported, noting that legislators changed only two words, making them plural rather than singular.

    And, by the way, it is not only traditionally business-friendly Republicans doing the bidding of these lobbyists. Increasingly, the Times notes, Democrats are also trying to please the special interests. Campaign contributions can be very persuasive.

    Tax fairness should be the goal, and voters must demand it, loud and clear, at the ballot box.

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