Jim Fall: And then there was the day that all the taxes were paid

Jim Fall

Here it is, Tax Day minus two, and counting.

Yes, April 15 rolls around Thursday.

But the even more anticipated day that most often slips by pretty much unnoticed, although it is associated with the same set of circumstances, came a bit earlier this year. The day we were all really looking forward to this year was last Friday.

That was Tax Freedom Day.

Just what is Tax Freedom Day?

Simply put, it answers the basic question, "What price is the nation paying for government?"

An official government figure for total tax collections is divided by the nation's total income. The answer this year is that taxes will amount to 26.89 percent of our income, and the stretch of 99 days from Jan. 1 to April 9 is 26.89 percent of the year. Income and tax data are then parsed out to the states, yielding 50 state-specific Tax Freedom Days.

Various local taxes result in each state’s having its own Tax Freedom Day. Because of modest incomes and low state and local tax burdens, Alaska and Louisiana celebrate Tax Freedom Day earliest, on March 26, the 85th day of the year this year. Connecticut celebrates last on April 27, the 117th day this year, because income per capita is higher than in any other state, according to The Tax Foundation.

High-income states pay much more in federal taxes, and they often have higher state-local taxes as well. Joining Connecticut in the latest celebrations are New Jersey on April 25, New York on April 23, Maryland, April 19, and Washington on April 15.

Alaska and Louisiana were joined in early celebration this year by Mississippi, which reached its goal on March 28, South Dakota, the next day, and West Virginia, the day after that, March 30.

Five major categories of taxes dominate the tax burden. Individual income taxes — including federal, state and local — require 32 days' work.

Payroll taxes take another 25 days' work. Sales and excise taxes, mostly state and local, take 15 days to pay off. Corporate income taxes take eight days, and property taxes take 12. Americans will log six more days to pay other miscellaneous taxes, most notably including motor vehicle license taxes and severance taxes, and about half a day for estate taxes.

This year's Tax Freedom Day is one day later than in 2009 but more than two weeks earlier than in 2007, the Tax Foundation reports.

“The shift toward a lower tax burden since 2007 has been driven by three factors: (1) The recession has reduced tax collections even faster than it has reduced income; (2) President Obama and the Congress have enacted large but temporary income tax cuts for 2009 and 2010, just as President Bush did in 2008; and (3) Two significant taxes were repealed for 2010 as part of previous legislation, the estate tax and the so-called PEP and Pease provisions of the income tax,” it says.

Despite all these tax reductions, Americans will pay more taxes in 2010 than they will spend on food, clothing and shelter combined.

Tax Freedom Day does not count the deficit, even though deficits must eventually be financed.

Since 1948, when Tax Freedom Day was first calculated, the difference between what governments are spending and what they're collecting has never been as great as during 2009 and 2010, according to the Tax Foundation.

“If Americans were required to pay for all government spending this year, including the $1.3 trillion federal budget deficit, they would be working until May 17 before they had earned enough to pay their taxes — an additional 38 days of work,” its report says.

This year’s date for a deficit-inclusive measure is the second latest since World War II. It was later only in 2009, when an unprecedented budget deficit approaching $1.5 trillion produced a deficit-inclusive date of May 21, fully 43 days later than Tax Freedom Day 2010.

Ten years ago, Tax Freedom Day was celebrated May 1, the latest date ever. A string of tax cuts between 2001 and 2003 pushed Tax Freedom Day up by two weeks, so that it fell on April 14 in 2003, at the time the second earliest Tax Freedom Day since the Johnson administration.

The Tax Foundation reports that “from 2003 through 2006, corporate income taxes rose rapidly along with rapidly growing corporate profits. Personal income tax receipts also rose sharply, starting in 2004. As a result, Tax Freedom Day was delayed, reaching April 24 in 2006.

“Since 2007, stimulus tax cuts and a weakening economy have come together to push Tax Freedom Day earlier,” it says. “Meanwhile, government spending has continued to grow, especially rapidly in 2009, resulting in the first ever 10-figure federal budget deficit."

(Nothing in this column is intended to agitate any political tempers. It is, however, appropriate to note that if you combine the words "The" and "IRS,” it spells "THEIRS.")

Jim Fall is a columnist and former publisher of the Maryville (Mo.) Daily Forum.