Tax Freedom Day

Reprinted with permission from Copley News Service.
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It's taken the longest ever, but Americans are finally working for themselves. TFD (Tax Freedom Day), when the average taxpayer can relax after paying off the tribute demanded by politicians from city hall to Capitol Hill, occurred on May 11.

On this issue, at least, Bill Clinton is nothing if not consistent. Since 1992, TFD has been on the march.

Seven years ago, it was April 29. But President Clinton quickly worked his magic. TFD advanced a day in 1993, then two days in 1994.

It rose a day each of the next two years, followed by two successive two-day jumps, and then a three-day leap last year. The good news is that the 1999 increase was just one day.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation, the steady riseis attributable to two factors: ''the federal tax increases that were enacted during the early 1990s,'' and ''the continued economic expansion which,because of the structure of the current tax system, tends to fill governmentcoffers faster than Americans' pocketbooks.''

If anyone doubts the price of ''progress,'' he need only view TFD overthe years. It was Jan. 31, 1902. Americans worked just one month forgovernment, compared to more than four months today. TFD never ran later than April 7during the depths of World War II and April 10 in the Korean War.

But Americans were working for the government up into mid-April by the1960s and until the end of April by the 1970s. Clinton initiated the steadymarchinto May. So much for his empty promise that ''the era of Big Government isover.''

Of course, TFD is merely an average. Government's burden weighs evenheavier in some jurisdictions.

Appropriately, Washington, D.C., is the worst, at May 23. Residents of Connecticut and New York don't finish paying taxes until May 22.Minnesota's citizens get off one day earlier. TFD in New Jersey and Wisconsin comes onMay 18. It is May 17 in Washington.

Of course, government's allies (typically interest groups feasting offthe public and ideological groups dedicated to manipulating the public)dismissTFD. They claim that we get a good return on the disappearing 35.7 percent ofour incomes.

But compare the burden of taxes to other expenditures. The averageAmerican spends two hours and 51 minutes of every eight-hour day working forgovernment. That's nearly three times as much time as he or she spends on housing andmore than three times as much as devoted to health care.

People have to work 41 minutes for food and spend 33 minutes of theirdayon transportation. Recreation accounts for barely 24 minutes.

Moreover, TFD only measures the money we pay government. Throw incompliance costs and people won't finish working for politicians until May 23.

Even this horrendous number might seem reasonable if the United Stateswas in the midst of a crisis that only government could solve. But government isthe fount of most problems, not the solution.

With the end of the Cold War, there is no serious threat to American security. Most of the defense budget is devoted to protecting populous and prosperous allies (Europe, Japan, South Korea), attempting to createartificial nations and rebuild failed societies (Bosnia, Haiti), and intervening in irrelevant civil wars (Kosovo).

The domestic front is no better. Despite their near-universal support, Medicare and Social Security have made the elderly dependent ongovernment, while impoverishing taxpayers and threatening the nation's fiscal future.The public school monopoly teaches neither facts nor values.

Scores of welfare programs have unintentionally destroyed families and communities. Unending billions are squandered on business subsidieseverything from agricultural aid to sports stadiums to export loans. Even the wealthyhave their hands in the till, receiving free yacht inspections from the CoastGuard and grants for their favorite operas from the National Endowment for theArts.

For all this, we are yielding over one-third of our incomes, and workingan extra two weeks to handle the resulting paperwork? There are somenecessary functions of government, of course, but they are minimal compared to whatpublic agencies actually do. Government seems most likely to act where there isno public interest involved.

There may be no better measure of the failure of the Republican Partythan the fact TFD continues to creep upward. The GOP Congress could be forgivenhad it actually passed serious tax reduction, only to have it vetoed byClinton. But Republicans aren't even trying to alleviate the taxpayers' burden.

Today, politicians in Washington are squabbling over how to spend record budget surpluses. With Tax Freedom Day moving ever later, it's time forthem to start refunding the money they've been overcharging the American peoplefor years.

Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.