Home / Opinion / Majority says all U.S. earners should pay some income tax

Majority says all U.S. earners should pay some income tax

Though nearly half of all American households will pay no federal income tax for 2011, three out of four respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say all Americans with earnings should pay at least some federal income tax.

A 2011 report by the Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution highlighted the chief reasons why some Americans do not pay federal income tax. Three factors account for nearly 90 percent of cases of zero tax liability: incomes that are less than the standard deduction and personal exemptions; the exemption for most Social Security benefits; and tax benefits given to low-income families and children.

For middle- and high-income households that pay no federal income tax, the chief factors are itemized deductions, credits for children and education, and above-the-line deductions such as trade and business deductions and retirement savings.

Some people argue that even with a progressive system all Americans with earnings should pay at least some federal income tax; otherwise, too much burden is placed on those who do pay. Seventy-eight percent of Snap Poll respondents say all earners should pay some federal income tax.

Others maintain, however, that most people with no federal income tax liability are in need. And they note that these households do pay other taxes, including federal payroll and excise taxes.
Respondents to this week’s poll say they do not believe government should have a significant role in wealth redistribution. Nearly a third say the government should not redistribute wealth at all, and 26 percent say it should redistribute less than it does now.

These results closely match a Snap Poll conducted in late 2008, when 31 percent said government should not redistribute wealth at all and 29 percent said it should share the wealth less than it does now.

Roughly 715 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted April 9 and 10.

Should all Americans with earnings pay some federal income tax?
Yes: 78%
No: 22%

To what extent should government redistribute wealth?
More than it does now: 27%
About the same as it does now: 14%
Less than it does now: 26%
Not at all: 32%


Anyone who responds with anything other than “Not at all” for the second question is welcome to move to Cuba. I hear it’s nice there.
—Devon Michaels, Chili

All individuals as well as all corporations (regardless of size) should pay some federal taxes. I subscribe to the “Buffett Rule” that those of us making more than $1,000,000 should pay a minimum tax rate. We need a balanced approach to the deficit; i.e.: cuts including sacred cows such as defense, means testing for Social Security and Medicare and, God forbid, increase revenue on everyone.
—Pete Bonenfant

I would support a flat tax with few deductions. That would be much more fair than today’s system.
—Bruce Anderson

Redistribute wealth? Never! Earn wealth? Always! I’m too disgusted to put into written words how I feel about the concept of “redistribution of wealth.”
—Lou Romano

All citizens should pay some tax. This is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Many individuals don’t appreciate that the privileges attached to citizenship come with responsibilities, one of which is paying their fair share of the cost of government. The corollary to all citizens should pay some taxes is that no citizen or group of citizens should be required to pay all of the taxes. While taxation is a fair way to cover the cost of government, it should not be used to redistribute wealth. That is socialism, which has not worked out well for citizens of Cuba, Russia and other countries that have tried it. It may sound romantic to advocate taking from the rich and giving to the poor, (but) it was not the principles on which this country was founded.
—Nelson Blish

Right. Because making people in abject poverty (pay taxes) will help both the country and the people in poverty. Wow. What a pointed question. Will next week’s poll be, “Should all corporations pay income tax?” I didn’t think so.
—Dave Atias, Center for Disability Rights

People shouldn’t be receiving money back from the government if they haven’t paid anything back in the first place.
—Dan Zarpentine

Less government is not the answer, nor is more government. Things have been pretty good for my generation. Let’s leave things alone.
—Hal Gaffin

Ahem. Damn straight everyone should pay some tax, as well as everyone should be required to vote. As far as distributing wealth, I feel sure that some of the current redistribution is unwarranted. I also feel that the generations-long incarceration of families in a welfare status should be curtailed, and be curtailed quite a bit, but I also would not want to deny some who really need a boost (even for quite a few years) what our society can afford to provide for them. While some wealthy individuals could probably do with less, I also would not want to deny those who have been successful, and have already made sacrifices to become successful, the fruits of their labors. I’ll yet need to refine my thinking quite a bit, as I recognize that I still come down squarely on both sides of all these questions, except that, while I am sensitive to government intrusion into our private lives (especially my own), I still favor communitywide efforts to improve life for all our citizens.
—Rusty Tyson

I have no problems with redistributing wealth as long as they redistribute work. Money is a means of barter. Including a car in someone’s pay is fine. What it really means is that person is worth the hourly pay plus the cost of the perk. The perk is a substitute for the money. If the person has his own car and receives mileage payment for the car, the transfer of the money is a barter. If you look at the big picture, we all barter in a day; all money does is make it easier for you to decide the value of what you do. If you do not work, you should not get paid. If you paid into Social Security, you should be able to get paid back. People who come to New York, walk into the federal building, apply and receive a check without ever paying in a dime is a waste of the fund. I could go on, but I won’t.
—Dan Viola

Boy, talk about your loaded questions. I wonder what kind of results you’ll get when you use a conservative trigger phrase like "redistribute wealth"?
—Matthew D. Wilson

Every American who earns wages already pays federal income taxes. The Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program and Medicare deductions on your paychecks go straight into the general fund. Then your employer pays a matching amount to boot. Those equal almost 16 percent of everyone’s wages. The so-called federal tax amount on your tax return is on top of that 16 percent! And don’t forget the federal taxes we pay on gasoline, utilities and our telephone. And I’m sure I am missing many other hidden ones. Now, the so-called "earned income credit" should be eliminated. That’s the program where people who earn nothing get money back from the federal government. Whose great idea was that anyway? The problem has never been that the federal government does not collect enough tax revenue. The problem is they continue to spend too much. Frugal is an unknown word in Washington.
—George Thomas, Ogden

Odd question considering that the Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of a health system where all have to pay somehow or you’ll be fined whether you use it or not. Now you ask if all should pay when all do use the services paid for whether they want to or not. Am I the only one who thinks that’s a little weird? I have no problem with a progressive tax. I have no problem with eliminating the deductions that our politicians originally built in to buy our votes with our money. I have a problem with a system that rewards certain parts of the population and disabling them from being able to participate in any upward mobility while blaming those who actually had an opportunity and worked to get somewhere. I once was told that if you took all the wealth in this country and redistributed it equally, it would all eventually end up back in the same hands. If you want to raise taxes on the rich, don’t bite their hands and lay the blame on them for being successful. If you want to help the poor, don’t circumvent their opportunities by paying them to stay out of mainstream society.
—Bill Lanigan

A major component of the original Constitution was the idea that you would not be charged taxes on your work. Up until the 16th Amendment, there was no individual income tax. Also, if the federal government wanted to have a war, it had to be funded by its own special tax. Additionally, taxes on corporations amounted to almost 60 percent of the budget to run the federal government in post World War II; now, after 60 years of lobbying, taxes on corporations amount to less than 5 percent of the budget. We need to re-examine where we raise the money to run the government, and also decide which programs will get money from the federal government. We are in a war, the longest of our country’s history, and added onto that the massive amount of surveillance and antiterrorist money hidden in the budget. We need to readjust our priorities. Education, health and progress need to be our mandates, not war and destruction.
—Joe Wierzbowski, Plymouth Photo Studio

What business is it of government redistributing anyone’s wealth? Taxes are supposedly voluntary and taxes and fees we pay now are out of hand. Like we do not pay any on April 15th to New York State, the feds? What is left then goes to our town, county, water, sewer, insurance on our land, house, property, when we buy something, pay bills, fees, tolls investments, savings, registrations and another 100 others already. Soon to be a carbon tax and now we may as individuals be paying a global tax to the UN. Our wealth is already being redistributed in a larger way with the devalue of our U.S. dollar and the resulting inflation of food, gas, property assessments and values. Is this not redistribution whether we like it or not?
—G. Palis

Bring on the flat tax for all. Fifteen percent is perfect for both business and personal. That will stimulate business and bring back all the offshore dollars back to the America.
—Jim Duke, Victor

Using the words in your snap poll "redistribute" wealth is not the right question and it’s one sure to get some people pretty heated up. You might have asked to what extent should government work on fair and balanced tax reform. I firmly believe everyone who makes money should pay taxes. At the same time, we do need to pay attention to the growing gap between the very wealthy and the rest of Americans. We should also be more aware of the large and growing portion of our economy taken up with financial services and the impact of that.
—Carolyn Phinney Rankin, president, Phinney Rankin Inc.

Senior citizens should be exempt. The tax code should be restructured so that deductions are limited—or perhaps a standard deduction for everyone with added deductions for dependents only.
—J. Clark

All income should be taxed to some extent and investment income should be taxed at a rate at least as high as payroll income. People who work should pay a smaller rate than people who collect money by not working as through investments. The reason this isn’t the case now is because the wealthy people who make most of their money through investments (by not working) are also the powerful people who make the laws.
—Donald A. Dinero, TWI Learning Partnership

It’s a simple concept. Put nothing in, get nothing out. It is called society. We are ALL part of it, so there should be no exemptions. Our president continues to talk about paying your fair share. Paying nothing is not at all fair. Share means that everyone contributes.
—Chuck Barone, Rush

Not all Americans should pay income tax. But more than half should, which would be more than today.
—Jim Haefner, Pittsford

What an awful question. It’s a loaded question with phrases such as “redistribute the wealth” indicating at something Communist, and "Americans" singling out certain groups by exclusion.
—Damian Kumor

With approximately half of the U.S. population currently paying no federal income tax, our society faces the threat of a class structure that is becoming divisive. It is clear that some Americans fall below the poverty level, with no funds to pay taxes and little ability to file the complex tax returns we have in place today. As a step toward reducing the tax burdens, I believe that the U.S. government should stop redistributing wealth through the tax process (i.e., "refunds" to those who do not pay taxes). Payments from one section of society to another may more effectively be done via the states and local areas where the impacts of poverty and need are better understood and can be addressed on a more personal and meaningful level.
—Laura Weller-Brophy

If you do not pay taxes, you do not care how the government spends its tax revenue, you only look for ways to get more of it—not a good attribute of a responsible citizen.
—Bob Worden, Penn Yan

If 51 percent of working Americans are not now paying taxes, there is something seriously wrong with our system. Income distribution is a VERY slippery slope!
—J.A. DePaolis, Penfield

Taxes based on income are one way to contribute. An alternative would be pay based on spending on non-essential items (i.e. food) via a national sales tax. Another would be to allow people to volunteer time to a federally approved activity. Bottom line, all people need to contribute in some form.
—Doug Flood

When more people are getting from the government than giving to the government, the outcome is very clear. As Margaret Thatcher so eloquently stated, “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”
—Jerry Lighthouse, C.P.M., CPIM Advanced Purchasing Technology, LLC

A flat tax will solve the problem, eliminate loopholes and is fair to everyone. However Social Security and the related Medicare contribution must be taken out of the equation as this is a retirement plan and not a source of government revenue as it has been treated since the Lyndon Baines Johnson administration.
—Jim Weisbeck 

Redistributing wealth is not the answer. Simpler, fairer tax laws are. I believe we all need to pay our fair share and not allow anyone to have tax loopholes to hide behind.
—Grant Osman

The biggest problem this country faces is runaway government spending and related deficits. As long as half the people have no "skin in the game," the problem will continue to grow. So, everyone who earns a paycheck should pay some taxes. It’s only fair. Also, we need to end those "rebates" to people who didn’t pay taxes. That’s just a bribe by the politicians to get some voters to keep them in office. That is totally unfair.
 —Dennis Ditch, Delta Square

Many Americans work full time but don’t make a living wage. Even people with college degrees can find it hard to make a living and pay for health insurance for themselves and their families. Economics is polarizing society into haves and have-nots. It’s a very difficult issue, but I do think the middle class is disappearing.
—Ann Tracy, Pittsford

What is needed is a universal flat tax. Perhaps 5 percent to 15 percent of all gross income. No deductions, no loopholes, no offshore havens. It would be better if there were no other state or local taxes. The federal government could then provide a fixed percentage to each state and local government based strictly on population. The benefits would include predictability and consistency. State and local elected officials would decide how to distribute fixed resources and set priorities. I also imagine a fixed percentage of monies collected would fund federal programs. We’d also need campaign finance reform where all candidates receive the same amount of funds from the government, and they in turn have to decide how their campaign can win based on managing their limited allocation. Elected officials could then spend their time doing the people’s business instead of constantly raising money. It’s a Darwinian approach, develop priorities based on the resources you have, not on what you wish you had; those who make the correct choices survive. Universities and think tanks should develop a model and test these assumptions for the next five years to determine parameters needed in order to implement such a plan.
—Frank Orienter, Rochester

The whole tax question is very complicated and wrought with special interests from Congress to the average worker. However, income to run the country and provide services we need, want, and sometimes require has to come from somewhere. We also know there are extremes in income from those who barely make enough to support themselves to those who make more than they could ever spend. We also want to be fair, compassionate, and progressive in our tax policies. First and foremost, tax money at all levels should go for those items that are absolutely necessary and not excessive or wasteful (budget reform). We need to start the reform at the federal level and continue it down to the local level. There will always be a question as to what is a fair way to tax and how do we do it without forcing people into poverty or making their situation worse. I’m not sure the present system works well enough or that a flat tax will be adequate. I do believe that if you have the ability to earn more then you should also be paying more tax. Perhaps we need to strip the system to its basics and start over without loopholes and considering the true value of all exemptions and deductions. I would give more tax relief to families, people in need, low income people, and truly disabled people. I would favor determining fair and simple methods to encourage investment and business growth. I would not give deductions for exclusions, whatever they are, for nonproductive items such as natural resource stockpiling. I would heavily tax speculations such as profits from hedge funds, short sellers, day traders, and other high-risk stock speculators. I would provide tax breaks for companies and investors who grow their employment at a committed rate and penalize those who do not meet their commitments. I would extremely tax any business executive that is compensated, in any way, greater than 100 times the salary of their lowest-paid employee. As far as taxing, it may be interesting to study a tax system that is based upon average wages for professions within a geographical area. Think of if you determined the average annual wage for a engineer in the Rochester area was $50,000 and the average CEO compensation was $1,000,000. Why could you not, hypothetically, tax the engineer at 8 percent and the CEO at 30 percent? You’re right, it is not an equal tax rate, but who has more ability to pay and does more of the work? If you are in a poverty level, i.e. $20,000, then, depending on your family situation, you may pay no tax. If you worked in New York City, L.A., Miami, or other highly compensated areas, these percentages would change. I wonder if this would work for health care also. Anyway, as you see, there is no easy method but we have to recognize that those who make more should pay more, without escape clauses, because there is no other place to get the money.
—Bob Stein

The second question is biased and loaded. I think most 99 percenters would be satisfied with the wealthy paying a fair share of taxes, equivalent to their income. The issue isn’t redistribution of wealth—it’s charging those who can a fair amount that is the same percentage of their income and assets as others pay.
—Lee Drake, OS-Cubed, Inc.

Too many people do not realize that income taxes have historically been progressive. Because of the regressive nature of other taxes that we all pay, mostly irrespective of income, certain low-income citizens should pay minimal income taxes.
—Nathan J. Robfogel

Taxes should be collected to cover only the expenses the government incurs per those things the Constitution allows. There should be no redistribution of wealth for any reason, including help for the needy. Before FDR, churches, brotherhoods, clubs and unions helped their members when they were down and out. If anything, wealth creation should be encouraged by the government taxing individuals as little as possible and allow businesses and individuals use their wealth to create more wealth through the jobs that are created when, through lower taxes, there is more money to invest in the production of goods. Government services are not investments paid through taxes; as government swells and taxes increase to pay for that obesity, less capital (money) is available to create jobs and more wealth. As we are going today sooner or later government will exhaust its sources of taxation. Then what will they cut? (Usually services that the taxpayer pays for but rarely uses or has the opportunity to use.) Also keep in mind that taxes are regressive, they do not stimulate productive activities they discourage productivity. As a productive person or business is taxed as they increase income, their motivation to continue to be productive is reduced—or they move their production someplace where their productivity is encouraged.
— Michael F. Kloppel, chairman, Ontario County Conservative Party

This is a very poorly worded and biased set of questions. Please improve your questions.
—Mike Bleeg, Strategic Results

Everyone should pay some federal income tax. Even if it’s at a 1 percent level for the poorest among us, we all need to pay for our national budget. The tax burden should fall heaviest on those whose income is highest as they derive the most benefit from our nation’s resources. All forms of real income need to be taxed on the basis of total earnings—not where the income derived from—no differential between capital gains income and factory work income. The deductions need to be removed so certain investments aren’t favored over others. The marginal tax rate for all needs to be graduated, progressive and as low as possible on all income levels. I consider your 2nd question harmful to this discussion. To describe providing basic living services for the poorer among us that is paid by taxing at a higher rate, those among us who have more earnings than are needed for a comfortable lifestyle as—government redistributing "wealth" —well, I don’t think those who receive basic living services from the government as receiving "wealth." If any of us think getting food stamps is going to make us wealthy … Wow! Our government’s fiscal and tax policies have and will continue to redistribute the wealth to the already wealthy and create an ever-growing income gap and disappearance of the middle class. The obscene amount of dollars flowing into the political arena to influence and favor policies will reinforce and redistribute more wealth to the wealthy. Let’s tax everyone—progressively—and hope that none of us requires the "wealth" of basic living services that our government provides.
—Michael L. Harf, EMCO Commercial Flooring, Inc.

4/13/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


  1. All I know is living abroad as an investor, I have to pay tax to the US after 93k dollars. So even when I don’t live in the US for 4 years I still pay taxes like many others in my shoes. If I simply gave up my citizenship I would have to pay tax on the equity of my investment which was never acquired while living in the US. All I know is there is something wrong with taxes when I would be forced to give up my citizenship in order to avoid paying. I pay a flat 7% tax to this country no matter what. Then I am taxed again by the US!

    If it weren’t for inheritance I would proudly no longer be an American.

  2. Eugene Patrick Devany

    For better taxes and more revenue:

    For individuals: flat 8% Individual Income tax and 2% of net wealth (above $15,000 cash exemption, and retirement funds).
    • $2.1 trillion in federal revenue
    • The same (2% wealth and 8% income) tax rates for rich and poor are progressive and fair
    • The 8% income tax rate is lower than the current payroll taxes for social security and Medicare – (which would be eliminated)
    • Everyone takes home 92% of their earnings (encouraging consumer power and economic mobility)
    • The wealth tax exemptions of $15,000 in cash per person encourages both saving and a modest level of liquidity

    For business: flat 8% Corporate Income Tax and 4% Value Added Tax (VAT).
    • $0.5 trillion in federal revenue
    • 4% VAT and 8% corporate income tax would be lowest business tax rates of all major economies

    There is no good reason to settle for incremental reform.

    Eugene Patrick Devany, JD, MPA

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