15. Taxation

Begin in agreement, for example: Not everyone pays their fair share in taxes, especially the rich.

Our values: Fairness, fair share, justice, equal opportunity, level playing field

Our vision: On the federal, state and local levels, our tax policies must be fair to everyone. The fact is, our tax system is thoroughly unfair; it is rigged with loopholes and giveaways that benefit only a few, usually rich individuals and big corporations, at the expense of all the rest of us. Everyone should pay their fair share, and to accomplish that, we must: (1) require disclosure of tax giveaways; (2) eliminate those giveaways that unfairly benefit the rich and powerful; (3) raise tax rates on the rich; and (4) cut taxes for people who cannot reasonably afford to pay them.

Voters are pretty cynical about taxes. About half believe that both lower- and middle-income Americans pay too much in federal taxes. That can be a problem if they think you are trying to raise their taxes.

At the same time, by more than a 3-to-1 margin they believe that upper-income people and corporations are paying too little, and favor increasing taxes on wealthy Americans and large corporations.

Americans think that taxes are unfair, and you certainly agree that tax laws have been engineered to unfairly benefit the rich and special interests. So don’t defend taxes, defend tax fairness.

Don’t say . . . Say . . .
Tax relief

Taxes are a necessary evil

Tax fairness

Tax giveaways and tax loopholes

Private tax subsidies

Rigged tax system

Why . . .

Don’t say tax relief because it frames taxes as an affliction in need of a remedy. The problem is not the existence of taxes, it is that federal, state, and local taxes are riddled with giveaways and loopholes for the politically powerful. You can also call them private tax subsidies. Whatever you do, don’t defend the unpopular tax system. And don’t begin with a raft of statistics either. Start by agreeing with voters.

Say . . .
Our tax system is unfair. The tax burden on working families has increased while rich people and huge corporations have been given tax giveaways and loopholes. That’s wrong—everyone should pay their fair share. We need to change the rules to create a tax system that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few. One step is [describe your specific proposal]…

Why . . .

No one likes to pay taxes, and persuadable voters don’t want to hear a lecture that taxes are the dues we pay for a civilized society. But people generally accept that they should pay their fair share.

Interestingly, a progressive monologue about taxes becomes less popular if it begins with unfairness and then goes on to say what government could do with the money. This is because persuadable voters don’t really believe the government needs more money; they believe one-third to one-half of tax dollars are wasted. Talking about the good things government can do with the taxes it collects also evokes voters’ biases against tax-and-spend politicians. So stick with your plea that the powerful need to pay their fair share.

Here are a couple of assertions you may have to deal with:

Right wing argument: Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no taxes.

Say . . .
Everyone needs to pay their fair share of taxes. And in fact, everyone who earns a salary pays taxes for Social Security and Medicare. Everyone who buys products at a store or owns a home pays taxes. Everyone who has a telephone or cable service pays taxes. When all the federal, state and local taxes and fees are added together, almost everybody pays about 20 to 30 percent of their income. But the fact is, the richest individuals and largest companies in America do not pay anywhere near their fair share in taxes.

Right wing argument: We’re all hurt by the “death tax.”

Say . . .
Everyone should pay their fair share of taxes. If we repealed the tax on inheritance, the system would be far more tilted to benefit the rich. That’s because you and I don’t pay any inheritance tax, it only applies to the very wealthiest people. They already have more than their fair share of tax breaks. And worse, if we eliminated that source of taxes to the government, you and I would have to make up the difference. If you’re for tax fairness, you’re for keeping the inheritance tax.