Friday, April 15, 2016

Do You Have to Pay Income Tax?

Well, it is that time of the year again—income tax time in the U.S. Actually, tax day is not today, as I thought when I planned this article, but on April 18 this year.
Of course, most of you who were expecting to get a tax refund probably filed your return weeks ago. But perhaps others of you who, like me, have to pay more when filing have waited until near the deadline.
To ask some people, “Do you have to pay income tax?” might be a way of subtly inquiring about their income. Those below a certain level of income don’t have to pay any income tax—and last year it was reported that just over 45% of U.S. adults paid no federal income tax.
Back in 2012, that figure was given as 47%, and they were people that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan dubbed as “takers.” (To his credit, last month Ryan admitted that he was wrong in what he said back then.) It remains true, though, that some people don’t have to pay income tax because of their limited income.
There are some, however, who contend that U.S. citizens don’t have to pay income tax because the government doesn’t have the right to demand such taxes. Actually, I have been planning to write this article ever since I saw that Irwin Schiff died last October.
I had never heard of Schiff (b. 1928) before, but he was a prominent figure in the U.S. tax protester movement and died in federal prison while serving a sentence of at least 13 years for tax evasion.
Schiff was the author of several books, including Federal Mafia: How It Illegally Imposes and Unlawfully Collects Income Taxes (3rd rev. ed., 1999). It is the only non-fiction book banned by the U.S. government—because it was judged to contain fraudulent information.
Whether by protest, by negligence, or by poor financial management, there seem to be many people who haven’t paid all their income tax and, consequently, who own the government a lot of money. There is now even a federal program, the “Fresh Start Initiative,” to assist taxpayers who owe back taxes.
In addition, I have been amazed at how many advertisements I have heard/seen recently by companies who are seeking clients whom they can help, for a sizeable fee no doubt, settle with the government for less than they owe in back taxes. So, evidently, some people don’t have to pay all their taxes because of getting behind in their payments.
In stark contrast to tax protesters such as Irvin Schiff are those who advocate taxpayer pride. Sister Simone Campbell is one such person. (Some of you will remember her as “the nun on the bus.”) She is the head of a group known as NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby.
I receive her/their emails regularly, and their April 1 email was titled, “Join Us in Showing #TaxpayerPride April 15! Take a Picture with What You are Proud to Pay For.” Here is the picture Sister Simone posted: 
Sister Simone says, “There are many great things that taxes pay for, and we at NETWORK are ready to show our #TaxpayerPride. We know that when we all come together and pay our fair share, our communities are healthier, happier, safer, and stronger.”
Surely it takes the sting out of paying our income tax when we realize that, among other things, those funds to go, at least in part, to make better communities for us all.


  1. The importance of paying taxes and the value they give us are important to point out. Thank you. I'm not very informed regarding the details of the ban on Schiff's book, but it is available free on the internet, and Amazon lists it for sale through third parties. According to Wikipedia, the court order bans Sciff and a couple of associates from selling the book themselves. I kind of remember that case because I was alarmed when I first heard about it, but it seems the book itself might not be banned.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Anton. You are correct that Schiff's banned book is available at (and elsewhere). But Wikipedia (among other sources) lists it as one of the books on the "List of books banned by governments."

  3. Leroy, I haven't paid income taxes for most of the years of my retirement. I am legally allowed a clergy housing expense which protects most of my clergy pensions. Since it is legal I take it. I think it should not be legal. Maybe there could be some discussion about that. Charles Kiker

    1. Thanks for responding, Charles. You raise an important question, and I also wonder if the clergy housing expense provision is an infringement on the separation of church and state. Those who are atheists or agnostics are required to pay more taxes in order to subsidize those who get tax breaks because of their religious vocation.

      I wonder if there are other ministers among those who read this blog who have thought seriously about this issue.

  4. The photo of Sister Simone is precious! Her attitude about income taxes reminds me about my dad's: he was proud that as a child of the Great Depression, he made enough money when I was a child to be able to pay taxes! I'm sure he didn't know the percentage of payers and non payers, but being in the top 50% would have been comforting to him, and shouldn't it be to all of us! In my old age, I take some pride that my income is low enough that even with the standard deduction I barely owe any income tax, and I am glad that our progressive brackets make allowances for people like me. My pacifist tax resister friends, and those advocating for a Peace Tax Fund make me aware that in politics there can be many strange "bed fellows" and that coalitions by definition include folks of contradictory motivations who unite on a single issue, but may disagree on everything else! That may need a blog article all its own!

    1. Thanks, Phil, for raising the other side of the issue--tax resistance by pacifists.

      Tax resistance is very different from tax protest by people like Schiff, and I have great respect for those who object to paying, or even refuse to pay, federal income tax because of the large percentage that is used for military expenses.

      I also strongly agree that there should be a Peace Tax Fund, but, I am ashamed to say, I have done very much to promote that idea.

      I know it is partly rationalization, but since there are many "hawks" in the country who gladly support the military with their taxes but resent having to pay taxes to help those on welfare, I consider the taxes I pay as being in support of those who need welfare and of other government programs that greatly aid individuals and society.

      That, I think, is no doubt what Sister Simone and her friends also think about #TaxpayerPride.

  5. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson writes,

    "I would hate to live in the community and state I live in if no one paid taxes to provide paved streets and highways, fire and police protection, schools, and an untold number of other services on which I depend."

  6. I appreciate local Thinking Friend Ann Henning sharing these comments:

    "Consider me one of the 'tax proud.' I am glad to have enough income to pay a bit of it in income tax. To make it a win-win situation, I have income deductions, so when tax filing comes around, I receive a refund. Actually, I appreciate the many things that I receive through taxes.

    "My great grandfather, John Hoover, January 15, 1898 wrote a letter to the editor of the Linneus (MO) Bulletin in which he stated, '... It should be the duty of every individual to pay taxes on the assessment when he is assessed, and not when the tax gatherer comes around.' He was talking about taxes on land, but I am sure he would pay income taxes today if he was fortunate enough to make enough money.

    "The nut doesn't fall far from the tree!"

  7. Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago once again shares pertinent comments:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your wise comments about taxes.

    "Recently a Republican state senator in Kansas said, 'Taxation is theft.' The Kansas City Star excoriated him for his comment because he has been on the public payroll for his entire working career.

    "Taxes are needed for public goods, without which it would be impossible to sustain a modern, abundant society. But many people do not seem to realize that most (but not all) public officials in the U.S. and western Europe try to use tax dollars as efficiently and wisely as possible. Our taxes pay for a lot of public goods, more than many, perhaps most, people realize.

    "Income tax protesters claim that the imposition of income taxes violates the U S Constitution. Have they not read the 16th amendment?

    "There is no completely fair tax, but the income tax is probably the least unfair of them all. Those who make more money should pay more in taxes."

    1. Thanks, Eric! I much appreciate your comments.

      Your mentioning the state senator saying "Taxation is theft" reminded me that I dealt some with that idea in my blog article posted on April 25 of last year (see

      I realize now I should have looked at that article again before writing the article on taxes for this year. (But if I had forgotten some of what I said in it, I'm sure few others would have remembered it either.)

  8. There are of course many economic theories of taxation, and the political theories of the role of government.

    My view is that some are necessary, some are a necessary evil, and some are evil. The real issue in my mind is spending within means, but that is not generally accepted in DC. If the taxation is destroying family budgets, it needs to be terminated. The ACA is one such tax of which I see the devastation daily. Average families and small businesses cannot afford it. As many families have been forced out of healthcare coverage as have been added. Time to start again with a reform that works. (Because the ACA is part of CMS, Medicare recipients are feeling the pressure as well as CMS draws from Medicare to keep the ACA solvent.) As one friend in the insurance business put it - The ACA was by Democrats and for Democrats, so let Democrats pay for it and leave Republicans, Libertarians and Independents alone. I am not a fan of Trump, but most of the Trump for President supporters I have met are Democrats who are fed up with the system, including healthcare taxes to support immigrants.

    Taxation is just another polarizing issue, but there does need to be some at least to support the military and infrastructure at least. Many taxes probably need a sunset clause. Several in Congress are squawking for another pay raise for Congress. More taxes... (I favor the states paying for federal representation by paying the median income of those they represent.)