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Tax code

Published July 29. 2013 05:06PM

One hundreth birthdays are usually something very special.

But there's been no celebrating this year's anniversary marking the ratification of the 16th Amendment, which allowed the establishment of the federal income tax.

It's not surprising that our tax code is so hated. According to The Tax Foundation, the average American must work until April 17th just to pay federal, state, and local taxes. Calls are made every year to change the system and this year's clamor is especially loud, given the targeting of conservatives and gross misconduct by the much despised Internal Revenue Service.

The tax code seems to grow more complicated each year, and critics believe the system is unbalanced and unfair. The top 20 percent of all income earners in the United States pay approximately 86 percent of all federal income taxes. Since many of the wealthy are adept at finding the loopholes to avoid paying taxes, and a great majority of Americans - now 50 million - pay nothing at all, the burden falls on the middle class.

The economic stresses brought on by the Civil War led to the first national income tax as the Union looked for ways to finance the war. There was no income tax after the war during this nation's Reconstruction, which incidentally saw the greatest period of economic growth in American history.

It was President Taft who proposed a basic two-tax system whereby income taxes were collected from citizens and businesses. His successor, President Woodrow Wilson, pushed for the Revenue Act of 1913, which included the income tax.

Taxpayers a century ago didn't have to deal with an April deadline and the IRS. It's also interesting to note that the first 1040 form appeared in 1914 and was two pages long. Over the last 75 years, the instructions for Form 1040 have grown to 189 pages.

The first federal tax code was about 400 pages long. One estimate puts the federal tax code today at more than 70,000 pages - about 13 miles long - and containing 3.7 million words.

Americans this year will pay an estimated $4.22 trillion in state and federal income taxes. This represents about 29.4 percent of all income in the country this year, and that does not even take into account the dozens of other taxes that we're forced to pay.

Many wonder if the federal government would go broke if we didn't have a federal income tax. It should be noted that the U.S. national debt has gotten more than 5000 times larger since the federal income tax and the Federal Reserve were created by Congress in 1913. Today, governments on the local, state and federal levels, meanwhile, continue to struggle or are drowning in debt.

Calls to change this tax system, one of the most complicated and intrusive systems in the history of the world, are growing louder. One alternative would be a flat tax that applies the same tax rate to every taxpayer, regardless of income bracket. Such a move to abolish the government monstrosity seems possible only if there's a turnover in our elected officials, starting with the White House.

By Jim Zbick

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