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Strangely enough, those who want to see lower taxes and more responsible government should look to the current mess in California.

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On Taxes and Elections, Take a Cue from California

Strangely enough, those who want to see lower taxes and more responsible government should look to the current mess in California.

The California recall has provided many lessons for those who heed such things. Unfortunately, one of the biggest has received too little attention: To get voters angry enough to vote incumbents out of office, make them pay their taxes from their own checkbook and then go to the voting booth.

Gray Davis is about to learn this – the GOP ought to learn it, too.

For years the pro-tax-relief crowd has argued and fought for ways to see the average American’s income tax burden reduced. During the Bush Administration they have seen some of the fruits of their labors. However, expecting politicians to continue to seek lower tax rates, or to at least not raise rates when things are tight, is a bit of a stretch.

Why?

One answer is that there is little to no accountability for elected officials either to avoid raising taxes or to block increased spending, which is then used as an excuse to increase taxes. Frankly, Americans are not mad enough at their legislators to boot them out of office and to elect someone who will actually fight to preserve their hard-earned paychecks.

To get an idea of how to elevate the ire of voters concerning the issue of taxation and thereby increase the efficiency and effectiveness of government, one needs only to look at the impact of the car tax on the recall election of California.

As of October 1, Californians are being forced to pay as much as three times more for the state car tax, with the average payment increasing from about $70 to around $210. The political hazards for Gray Davis are evident. First of all, the significant impact of the tax hike on voters’ wallets can only serve to further diminish Davis’ languishing reputation. Of the tax increase which will affect most Californians the Los Angeles Times on Monday noted that “[u]nlike gasoline and sales taxes, which residents pay out during the course of a year in smaller amounts, the car tax requires them to write checks, often hefty ones, to the state.”

Not only does the personal impact of writing a “hefty” check to the DMV hurt Davis in the eyes of Californians, but also the timing of the increase could not be worse. The aforementioned Times article quotes Pasadena resident Percy Kosoi as saying, “In a way, I was leaning toward saving him [Davis], but now, with this, I haven’t made up my mind. It doesn’t help him.”

Candidates in the recall movement also have capitalized on the car tax’s timing, using the slogan “Stop the Car Tax” as part of their campaign to recall and replace Davis.

What does the current California situation tell pro-tax-cutters about how to see an improvement in the federal tax system and in the responsiveness – and sense of responsibility – of the nation’s elected officials? Here are two important items.

First, income tax withholding needs to be eliminated. President Franklin Roosevelt signed withholding into law with the Current Tax Payment Act in 1943, compelling employers to withhold federal taxes from the paychecks of employees and to pay those taxes directly to the government on the behalf of workers. Congressional support was based on the fear that Americans might refuse to pay the higher taxes and surcharges included in the Revenue Act of 1942. FDR promoted withholding as “a temporary wartime measure” to ensure steady funding for World War II, yet it continues to this day. The reason is obvious – it allows the government to continue to hide from voters the reality of their tax burden.

Over the last few years, attempts have been made to eliminate withholding and to require individuals to pay income taxes in monthly installments. Were taxpayers compelled to write monthly tax checks to the IRS, it seems unlikely that taxes would remain at their current high rates, merely because of the forced attention that would be given to them – just as Californians are now looking at the size of the checks they will be writing to the DMV and are incensed by it.

Second, Election Day ought to be moved from the first Tuesday of November to the first Tuesday after the April 15 Tax Day. In California, the proximate dates of the October 1 tripling of the car tax and the October 7 recall election obviously will have a major impact on the attitudes of voters deciding the fate of Gray Davis. Presumably, a similar impact on the attitudes of voters nationally would be seen in the polls as they recover from filing their tax returns and experience a newly found motivation to see some sort of change in their tax burden – or, at least, in the attitudes of the legislators spending their tax dollars recently confiscated by the government.

Though it seems a counterintuitive statement to make considering the current mess the state is in, the nation would do well to emulate California . . . but just this once.

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