Friday, April 11, 2003

The New Poll Tax?

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) has an intriguing idea: move tax day from April 15 to November 1, so that the memory of filing tax returns is still fresh in voters’ minds when they go to the polls. Sounds good at first, but I’m skeptical. If we actually had to *pay* our taxes on tax day, the plan might work. The problem is that we actually pay our taxes throughout the year through mandatory withholding. For about 70% of tax filers, tax season is when they get a *refund* on their taxes because the government kept too much during the year. Now, they still might be annoyed at tax time if they actually think about the net amount they actually paid over the whole year – or if they think about the interest they could have earned if withholding had not been excessive – but I suspect that most Americans don’t think about it that way. They’re just happy to have the sudden windfall, and timing that windfall to coincide with election day is not the way to mobilize anti-tax sentiments.

If you want to set up tax collection in a way that translates into angry voters, you need to eliminate withholding so that people have to pay their taxes all at once, and *then* make that day November 1. Even then, I suspect it wouldn’t make much difference, because a minority of tax payers pay the vast majority of income taxes.

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