I confess: I avoid paying taxes

Campaign 2012

The Democrats are beating the campaign drum with the daily and so-far-unsubstantiated charge that Mitt Romney, wealthy though he is, paid no income taxes for 10 years. The original Huffington Post story reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told them in an interview:

"A month or so ago … a person who had invested with Bain Capital called his office. 'Harry, he didn't pay any taxes for 10 years,' Reid recounted the person as saying. 'He didn't pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that's true? Well, I'm not certain,' said Reid. 'But obviously he can't release those tax returns. How would it look?'"

Of course, there is no suggestion that Romney broke any laws. It's just a grave moral condemnation. But even if it were true, I strain to find any problem with it.

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I myself try not to pay taxes. I take the deductions I'm allowed to take. I itemize my mortgage interest, my tithe, and anything else I can. I mention my kids for a tax break on each one of them. I even use the pre-tax income option for commuting expenses. My conscience is clear. God enjoins us to pay "taxes to whom taxes are owed" (Romans 13:7). But what is "owed" is only what is legally required. No one is morally obliged to overlook a deduction or make donations to the public coffers.

Does Harry Reid, who has made himself the chief prosecutor for this case in the court of public opinion, forgo any loopholes? Does he take the standard deduction like his humble renting constituents do rather than itemize the complexities of his no doubt well-invested life? I would be shocked if he does. He likely uses an accountant who can excavate deductions and tax havens (or as Steve Rattner called Romney's successful tax accountancy, "every trick in the book") from the 72,536 pages of the tax code that ordinary people can never hope to find. (I confess that I have no evidence for these scurrilous charges that Reid itemizes his deductions and uses an accountant.) If he finds his tax-as-percentage-of-income getting unconscionably low, does he make a donation to the IRS? Slim chance of that. But if not, he is no different from Romney and from you and me.

If, in fact, the presumptive Republican nominee for president paid no taxes for a decade (and we have nothing but a politically motivated assertion at this point to support that charge), it would not be Romney's character or fitness for office that would be at issue, but the urgency to reform our insanely complicated tax code. Romney should seize this opportunity to defend everyone's liberty to accumulate wealth (also called "property"), denounce the size and reach of government that invites tax code complexity, and propose a flatter tax that will pink slip most of the IRS and free up business to get back to doing business for all of us.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.


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