Tuesday, January 5, 2010

No tax break for Fifi

    If self-interest alone were to guide one's politics, I'd be writing my congressman to support the HAPPY Act. As would my seven cats, my three dogs, my three rabbits.

    Well, I'm not. And I've told the pets to put their quills in their ink wells, and slowly walk away.

    The HAPPY Act would be a boon to pet owners. So, why oppose it? Because it would be one more ridiculous wrinkle in a culture of tax avoidance.

     HAPPY — for Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years — would allow pet owners to deduct food, vet care and other pet-related expenses from their income taxes — up to $3,500 per year. Cute and cuddly. And so stupid.

      Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., the bill's author, said it would boost pet ownership and ease strains on animal shelters. That would be nice. Responsible pet ownership is costly.

      The fact is, however, that people who let their animals roam and breed are not the types to parse the tax code, or even to itemize. Many pay no income tax.

      More likely, this tax dodge would disproportionately benefit the French-poodle set, as tax policy so commonly does.

      It would be one more way that people with tax attorneys would profit at the expense of those without, and those ways are more numerous than anyone wants to acknowledge.

       Despite claims by Republicans that the wealthy shoulder more than their share of the tax burden, the truth is to the contrary. Yes, because a progressive income tax does what it is supposed to do, the richest 1 percent pay a lot, roughly 37 percent of all income taxes, while possessing 21 percent of all reported income. But when one considers Social Security payroll taxes and other payroll taxes including motor fuels, as Pulitzer Prize winner David Cay Johnston writes in his book on tax inequality, Perfectly Legal, "because of tax tricks fashioned by lawyers," the top 1 percent is taxed more lightly than those of us in the middle class, and some of America's wealthiest avoid taxes altogether, legally.

       Instead of inventing more ways for us not to pay our taxes, whatever the income, lawmakers should be figuring out ways to pay for all the government we have purchased on our grandchildren's credit.

        Barely noticed as 2009 concluded was Congress's passage of a bill lifting the national debt ceiling to $300 billion. Among Democrats in the Senate, Colorado's Mark Udall was a noticeable holdout until the last minute. His vote was crucial, because Republicans insisted on a super majority of 60 votes, The filibuster they threatened would have left the government without money to pay Social Security checks or pay interest on its debt.

       No additional debt. That sounds mighty principled on behalf of leaders of the minority party, except that when in power in the last decade, the same Republicans raised the debt ceiling repeatedly, sometimes with as few as 52 or 53 votes.

       Udall bent to the wishes of the Democratic leadership when told that the majority party would hold two votes this month, one creating a special commission to examine the debt, and one to offset new spending with program cuts. Congress should also have a graduated war tax and some form of incremental energy tax in the mix, because program cuts alone will not get us out of the hole we've dug, and everyone knows it.

       No, my animals and I will pay our share to do what must be done, pet ownershipwise and taxpayerwise. Fifi, meanwhile, should eat a lower grade of kibble in our grandchildren's interest.

       John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

No comments: