Tax Bite

  If you haven't done so already, you ought to know that you have until midnight Monday to file your 1999 federal tax return. And while you're figuring out how much you owe in taxes, there are some other things you might want to consider as well—that is, how our nation's tax policies affect not only your pocketbook but the culture in which you're bringing up your kids. According to Peter Ferrara, general counsel for Americans For Tax Reform, "Federal, state, and local taxes consume about 40 percent of the income of the average family. That is more than the average family spends on food, clothing, and shelter combined." It didn't used to be this way. The first federal income tax in 1913 demanded what today sounds like pocket change—about $50 per family. And that's in 1990 dollars. It shouldn't come as a surprise that anything that can demand 40 percent of what you earn can also affect the way you live—and that's certainly true of our tax system. For starters, taxes play an important role in decisions of whether both parents should hold outside jobs. Because of taxes, some families find it necessary for both parents to work outside the home simply to compensate for income lost to taxes. And even those families that sacrifice the mother's paycheck so she can stay home with the kids hear the taxman's "gotcha!" They discover on tax day that the federal child-care credit gives a tax break only to parents who pay for childcare. There's no break for parents who raise their own kids. So, the tax policy creates an incentive for daycare. There are other perverse incentives as well. Under the Internal Revenue Code, couples who simply live together actually pay less tax than those couples who get married. Last summer, Congress tried to eliminate this penalty as part of a larger tax bill. The President, however, unfortunately vetoed it. So when you file your tax return this Tax Day, you need to think about the values that the Internal Revenue Code expresses: In addition to the unspoken assumption that people work to support the government, the Code is indifferent, if not hostile, to the family. It penalizes couples for having children. It penalizes them again if they leave the workforce to raise their children. And, it punishes people for getting married. What can we do about it? The House has already passed a bill this year that would substantially reduce the "marriage penalty." Two weeks ago a Senate committee approved a similar measure. We must support these measures by telling our representatives that a good use of the federal budget surplus is giving families a much-needed break—starting with elimination of the "marriage penalty." We can also demand that government return some of the excess revenues it collects from its citizens. For some families, tax cuts might make the difference between someone being there when the kids get home or contributing to America's growing roster of "latchkey children." While paying taxes is our biblical duty, and our duty as citizens, it should only cost us money—not the well being of our families.


Chuck Colson



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