The Nation's Pulse

Government-Approved Masochism

Its practitioners subscribe to the motto: "Tax me more."

By 9.15.06

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For the left there are few greater certainties than the need to raise taxes. Born-again deficit-cutters solemnly decry the flood of red ink and proclaim that the public is at risk if the government is denied necessary revenues.

But those who believe that Washington needs more money to spend on critical programs need not stand idly by if the greedy majority refuses to vote higher levies. The undertaxed can give, and give generously.

The federal government always has cheerfully accepted donations. Some come in anonymously from people motivated by a twisted form of generosity or an unnecessary sense of guilt. Sometimes those who once cheated on their taxes decide to pay up without alerting the authorities about their previous actions.

Voluntary contributions are common enough that the Department of the Treasury discusses the procedure for doing so on its website. Uncle Sam has established "a special account called 'Gifts to the United States'" and created a Hyattsville, Maryland address for the checks to be sent.

This option isn't new. Explains the Treasury:

This account was established in 1843 to accept gifts, such as bequests, from individuals wishing to express their patriotism to the United States. Money deposited into this account is for general use by the Federal Government and can be available for budget needs. These contributions are considered an unconditional gift to the Government.

Although Treasury officials are waiting with open arms, there's been no stampede. The department collected only $21,179 last year. According to writer Tim Worstall, the total received by all agencies, including bequests, was about $2.6 million. Even that doesn't make much of a dent in a 12-digit budget deficit, but every little bit helps.

The Treasury also is quite prepared to accept any tax refunds that people don't want. It's quite easy. According to the department's website: "individuals should endorse the check and write 'Pay to the Order of the United States Treasury' on the back of the check and then mail it in."

Indeed, the professed under-taxed need never be stuck with an unwanted tax refund check. Anyone who thinks they are paying too little could inflate their income and reduce their deductions. Technically that would be filing a false return, but the Internal Revenue Service is unlikely to prosecute someone for paying too much.

Imagine. You feel desperately under-taxed. Give yourself the salary of your dreams -- add 20 or 30 thousand dollars to your actual wages. Make up some capital gains and miscellaneous income.

Moreover, eschew some of those deductions to which the Feds say you are entitled. Forget a kid or two, drop the SEP IRA write-off, cut your charitable contributions in half, and don't list taxes paid to other governments. In this way you can end up paying as much more as you'd like.

But since distressingly few of the "taxes are too low crowd" apparently take advantage of this opportunity, Congress should create a special line on the 1040 for people who believe that they are under-taxed. Call it the "guilt penalty," or "hypocrisy relief premium" or simply "voluntary tax." Then people could give Uncle Sam a boost without having to go to the trouble of finding some obscure federal address, rejecting a refund check, or complicating their tax preparations. The procedure should be as simple as possible.

A half dozen states already have what Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee calls the "Tax Me More Fund." Huckabee created the fund in 2001 via executive order. Two years later New Hampshire Gov. Craig Benson followed suit, with a special "Tax Me More" account and form.

Montana, Oklahoma, and Virginia also cheerfully accept donations. The Massachusetts legislature added a box on the state tax form allowing filers to pay at the pre-tax cut rate. If you really don't think that your tax relief was justified, then don't take it.

Proposals for similar accounts have been introduced in a dozen states. Most use some variant of the name "Tax Me More," though Arizona state Sen. Dean Martin calls his initiative the "I Didn't Pay Enough Fund." Every state should create such a system.

If people believe that they are paying too little in taxes, they should be encouraged to give early and often. Add as much as you'd like when you're filing your taxes.

The goal is not to augment federal or state revenues, however. After all, who in their right mind views the state as a benevolent charity? Write a bigger check so more money can go to foreign aid, routinely wasted, misspent, and stolen? Send in some extra cash so Uncle Sam can increase corporate welfare to America's leading companies? Toss a few more pennies into the black hole of Social Security/Medicare?

Rather, there's a larger political point to make. Americans for Tax Reform is circulating draft language for additional "tax me more" funds to embarrass tax hikers. Notes ATR: "The fact that these funds were not enacted often reflects hypocrisy on the part of those calling for higher taxes."

Moreover, creating additional "tax me more funds" would help educate the public. It turns out that there aren't a lot of people who in practice want to give politicians more money, whatever the same people say in principle when big spenders are spinning tales of woe from under-funded social programs. For instance, Virginia created its "Tax Me More" fund in 2002. The total take so far has been a smidgen over $9,000.

It's hard to see how anyone could believe that taxes are too low. Leviathan keeps growing, and in every area. With spending increases running at Lyndon Johnson rates under the Republicans, only drastic action will bring relief.

So it's time to put to the test everyone who believes that Uncle Sam, as well as supposedly penurious state governments in California, New York, and elsewhere, is under-funded. Create "Tax Me More" funds and say to people, fine. You think you don't pay enough in taxes. Here's an easy way for you to pay more. And if you're not willing to put up, then shut up.

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About the Author
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author and editor of several books, including The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington (Transaction).