NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Tax Cuts For Everybody" Or "No Tax Cut For You!"

October 23, 2000

Gov. Bush and Vice President Gore are essentially arguing about the fairness of the current tax system. Bush says it is morally wrong for the federal government to take more than one-third of anyone's income, and he would reduce the top personal income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent. Al Gore cast the deciding vote in the Senate for the 1993 tax increase initiated by Bill Clinton, which raised the top rate from 31 percent to its current level.

In a Reader's Digest poll published in February 1996, people were asked what the top rate of taxation should be; that is, the rate that is most fair. There was a virtual consensus that 25 percent is the most anyone should pay. When asked specifically about those making more than $200,000 -- the top 1 percent of taxpayers at that time -- they still said 25 percent. The result was unchanged regardless of the race, sex, age, education level, income or political affiliation of the respondent.

The rich now pay well more than 25 percent in federal income taxes alone.

  • In 1998, according to just-released IRS data, the top 1 percent of taxpayers paid 26.79 percent of their adjusted gross income in federal income taxes (see figure).
  • According to Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation, effective tax rates on the rich would in fact rise even if Bush's tax cut is enacted.
  • It estimates that in 2005, those making more than $200,000 would pay 28.9 percent of their income in federal taxes under current law and 27.1 percent if Bush's plan is enacted.

Fairness is not the sole criteria by which tax plans and tax systems can be judged. But it does seem to be the dominant factor in this election cycle.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, October 23, 2000.


Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues