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Boomer Bytes #75: Death and Taxes

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

Death and Taxes

By Steve Canipe

Well they both do seem inevitable – death and taxes. I don’t really want to spend a lot of time on the first of the ideas—death; but will spend more time on the second-taxes. Neither of them are particularly appealing.

We have passed the time of year when the second quarterly payment of estimated federal taxes are due – 15 June…but if you are lucky enough to have investments and/or savings to necessitate this payment it is probably a good thing although you may not feel this way when you write the check to the Internal Revenue Service.

During some walks at the Broyhill Wellness Center, other boomers have some cute sayings about being alive; for example “Being on this side of the grass is good.” or “Being vertical is a good thing.” or “Being able to complain about an ache is not all bad.” There were others but these come immediately to mind.

All of the sayings take into account the alternative to doing or being different from the stated action depending on the one being considered. Taxes on the other hand seem to come in a myriad of ways and do include after death taxes in the estate taxes, assuming your estate is large enough to warrant any. The most obvious tax we pay is income tax both to the federal as well as the state government. The amount varies depending on our receipts form savings, work, investments, etc. These taxes are said to be progressive. What that means basically is the more you have the more you pay. Lower income people pay a smaller percentage than do higher income people. Or at least that is the way it is supposed to work. Unfortunately many high income people have all sorts of ways, often called deductions or even tax dodges, whereby they don’t pay as much tax even on a percentage basis.

After the income taxes comes property taxes. There is county tax and if you live in an incorporated town like Boone, you will pay almost double what someone living in the county pays. This supposedly gets you services like police, fire, and street clearing services (especially nice in the winter). So that is the taxes, you think – ah unfortunately not so fast.

Every time you go shopping you will pay a sales tax. Different counties and cities charge a different amount…some states have differential taxes or don’t tax certain items like medical supplies. North Carolina during the last legislative session increased the number of items subject to a sales tax. So with all those taxes and maybe the estate tax is there anything else you have to worry about?

Well yes but no if you are not content to be duped into believing that is all the taxes. In addition you will pay special taxes on your car license plate, you will pay additional tax on your fuel purchases, you will pay fees that I consider paid in lieu of taxes, but still basically taxes—like garbage, water and sewer fees if you live in Boone city limits. If you smoke or otherwise use tobacco products, drink alcoholic beverages, fly in airplanes, you will be hit with additional “special” taxes.

Oh don’t forget Social Security and Medicare taxes if you are working or otherwise earn enough to qualify for the additional grabs on your money. While not exactly a tax, the parts in the Social Security you pay to be covered for various visits and stays and for medicine are likewise money out of your pocket.

So where are all these taxes going? Who gets them? Who gets the benefit of them? All of these are good questions and there are certainly a myriad of answers. Some of the answers probably make more sense than others but all of this money is being used for services and payments. In theory the government should not be paying out more out than it takes in…North Carolina is required to have a balanced budget that, at least in theory, prevents more out going than incoming money.

Sometimes like in the last biennium budget there looked to be a shortfall because taxes were being cut for some taxpayers. So to balance the shortfall in incoming there had to be a concomitant decrease in outgoing payments. One of these decreases was in monies for teachers and other educational expenditures. Was this a sound investment since educated folks tend to make more money, pay more taxes and therefore it is sometimes considered like spending to make? Unfortunately the legislature in the state chose to instead take the “trickle down” economic theory which says if you reduce taxes on the wealthy, they will spend more money, create more jobs, and get a stronger tax inflow. Some people believing this should look closely at now nearly bankrupt Kansas to see how this trickling does not always work out the way it is planned. The conservative Wall Street Journal (http://goo.gl/feFMxH) commented in an article headlined “Sam Brownback’s Tax-Cut Push Puts Kansas Out on Its Own” that “…Employment growth is below the national average, while Kansas faces plunging revenue, dwindling reserves and a rare debt downgrade.” Brownback, by the way is the Governor of Kansas.

So what do all those taxes pay for? State revenue is a little different but looking at the federal budget the following is good to remember: 24¢ of every dollar pays for Social Security; another 24¢ is taken by Medicare, Medicaid and various marketplace subsidies; safety net programs like Food Stamps takes another 11¢; defense and international assistance takes 18¢; the rest is 8¢ for benefits for federal retirees and veterans; interest payments takes 7¢; there is 3¢ for transportation infrastructure – airports, trains, Interstate and federal highways; 2¢ goes to education programs; science and medical research is at 2¢; foreign aid non-security, humanitarian aid takes 1¢; and everything else in the budget is 2¢.

In fiscal 2014, we spent about $3.5 trillion dollars. Three trillion of that expenditure came from taxes and fees. The remaining nearly $500 biillion came from borrowing. This type expenditure is not sustainable for the long run as the debt service which already takes 7% of the money will only increase. Almost everyone agrees that this is true – the real issue is how do you stop it? There can either be decrease outflow (read that cutting programs and/or benefits) or increase input (read this increased taxes and/or fees). Neither of these seems very appealing to our Congress or President…it does seem that on this point they agree – it cannot go on but who is to help stop it and how? This is where the disagreement comes in. Perhaps a sensible person working on his/her personal home budget would say earn more money or spend less to keep from going into debt. The federal government has the luxury of “borrowing” any time it wants by simply printing more money!! This does not really work but it keeps kicking the can down the road.

Perhaps we boomers will not see when the can is impossible to kick further and a day of reckoning will come. Maybe the taxes are inevitable, as I mentioned in the first paragraph or maybe we will be dead before it comes.

Whatever we do it will take some sacrifice on everyone’s part. Wealthy as well as poor. Who needs to suffer the most or is that really the question? Maybe it is who will suffer the least with various cuts and increases. I hope that our elected representatives stop the knee-jerk reactions and actually negotiate with each other to come up with a solution that probably no one will like – this is leadership – and we are sorely lacking at all levels of government – city, county, state, federal – at least that is my opinion.

What is your opinion on this issue of death or taxes? Share your thoughts below or send me an email to boomerbytes@yahoo.com. Will look forward to hearing from you.