As the federal branches of government push for comprehensive tax code reform, some critical areas of focus have been overlooked. We shall examine the other side of the coin which include government revenue and spending.
As the Senate, Congress, and the White House push the agenda to bring a new comprehensive tax code reform bill into law, it is important to know that there has not been a restructuring of the current tax code since 1987. Since that time, tax code reform has been a layered process, with changes introduced in a piecemeal fashion, as the market, economy, and government spending changed. These updates have been added one layer at a time, with little or no removal of former rules.
With over 30 years of piecemeal methodology, this Congress, Senate, and Executive Administration has an opportunity to strip away the layers of irrelevant or dated regulatory policy, and streamline the tax code to be more effective, precise, and quite frankly, easier to understand for trained tax attorneys, certified public accountants, and the seasoned layman who prepares their own tax return documents. But how can any branch of government effectively and responsibly make changes to revamp the tax code without taking time to deeply examine the other side of the tax code coin?
Besides borrowing, taxes are the only source of the government’s revenue stream. Taxes fund the government’s operations, and the services it provides to its people, including infrastructure (highways, tunnels, bridges, and airports); public education; protection to our nation (hence the military); and other emergency services (police, fire departments, and EMS services). Taxes also pay the many people who work for the government, in managing the public trust, including but not limited to civil servants and elected officials to public office.
Now, let’s look at the vast number of areas in which government spends money, your money, including providing foreign aid to other countries and special projects in the name of public interest. As more programs and projects are added to the list, more people are needed to oversee and manage these operations. This means the government needs to spend more to do more. When the government does not have more revenue than what it is spending; it then borrows the money, and pays a premium in interest to its debtors. The government is responsible for covering the interest plus principle, just the same as if you or I obtained a mortgage from a bank to purchase a home.
In an attempt to juggle and balance its debt, the government may sell off its debt to other countries, or will borrow from other countries at a discounted rate; in exchange, the lending country will get special privileges. Some of these special privileges include lower tariffs on goods imported into the United States, or in some cases, exceptions that allow for businesses from the lending country to bypass regulations and rules; thus giving those selected businesses a strategic market advantage in a free market economy.
One can just imagine the layers of free passes lending countries and foreign business interests have gotten, when we have a national debt that is teetering on $20 trillion dollars. And how can we even think about comprehensive tax code reform when we still have an issue that started before income tax was even mandated? This problem began when the government first started to borrow money. The amount of compounded interest has accrued over decades in favor of the lender; and the government has no real plan to pay off the debt. This can has been kicked down the road for over a hundred plus years. Our government, made up of representatives elected by the people, know this issue yet fail to do anything about it.
Before government can figure out how to streamline a tax code, they must take a deep look in the mirror. First, it must make major cuts into its spending before it can revamp the tax code, which in essence is the rules and regulations in which government dictates how much revenue it will bring in by imposing taxes upon the producers within its citizenship, which also includes businesses.
After reviewing the thousands of pages of line items that could possibly be the new tax code, let’s take a look at where government could become more efficient in its spending without cutting essential services to its people:
Payroll for the government: Currently the average congressman or federal senator will make an average of $175k per year for their service to office. If they are on a committee, it’s another pay increase. If they chair a committee, it’s another pay increase. If they become a speaker, it’s another pay increase; in addition, they receive complete health care benefits package, a retirement package, and other perks that come with the job for life. There are 435 seats in congress, and 100 seats in the senate. In addition, the average federal employee in a management position receives a salary that is over $100,000 per year. And this is just at the federal level. We have not even taken a look at the state, county, or local level payroll. With numbers like these, a person can understand why elected officials do what they can to protect their seat once they are in office. Our founding fathers never intended the elected to profit from their position.
So how do we positively influence the national debt and tax code? Roll back payroll. If you take just the 535 seats that represent congress and the senate, it would equate the average payroll north of $93 million dollars per year which is paid to just 535 individuals. If we rolled back the yearly compensation to half of that, where an individual congressman or senator would earn just $87,500 for each year they are serving in office, the people would begin to save $46.5 million plus per year. Over ten years, the American tax payer collectively would save almost a half of billion dollars. Over 100 years, we the people would save $4.6 billion dollars. Now extend that to every branch of government where employees (in management positions, at agencies, are elected or appointed officials,) are not a part of essential services i.e. police, firemen/EMS, military, and the overall impact could make a major dent in government spending. This is not likely to happen, because the one thing that will make any congressman or senator have their own fellow colleagues turn against them would be the proposal of rolling back the compensation that they receive.
Elimination of Agencies which are no longer effective: A pure example of this is the agency of Veteran Affairs (VA). The VA was established to serve the interest of our nations heroes, whether it be health care, housing, or education, which each veteran earns when they commit their lives to defending our nation’s freedoms. The VA has become a large bureaucratic agency slow to serve its constituents. The average wait for a veteran who is in dire need of exercising their right to health care needs (including mental health care and well-being) is almost two years before a case worker can hear the concerns of the veteran. Also, veterans are relegated to only use health care facilities which are managed by the VA when seeking health care. This creates higher administrative cost and lesser quality in the services provided.
So, how do we solve this issue? The answer has multiple benefits, and it is simple: Each veteran should be transferred from the VA health care system into an accelerated Medicare/Medicaid program that allows for the veteran to access health care at any clinic, hospital, or physician of their choice. This will allow for the elimination of layers of administration who are trying to manage our veteran’s interests while allowing the veteran to access health care at the moment they need assistance. Also, due to the regulations that make up the Medicare/Medicaid programs, costs are more closely regulated and capped, so the free market has to look for how to provide better care with less money, which spurs off better competition that serves the interest of their consumers. Now, expand this concept to other agencies and programs that were designed with the intent of serving a selected constituency and you will find areas where the government could save hundreds of millions of dollars.
Limiting or Cutting Foreign Aid: There is a deep-rooted moral issue with giving away the people’s money to other countries to distant communities when there are so many in need on our own home soil. The United States government must begin to examine how much of the people’s money it is giving away. This rule is very simple. Charity begins at home, and you cannot help someone breathe when you don’t have on your own oxygen mask. There are other ways to solve some of these international concerns than throwing money at it. That is an entirely another article in itself.
Restructuring the debt: The lenders and creditors have made plenty of money earning interest on owed interest and principle (compounded interest). The compounded interest has created wealth beyond what multiple generations of their families could ever spend in multiple lifetimes. Our government needs to stop borrowing money and restructure the remaining debt with lower interest rates, with a plan to pay down the remaining balances over time so that by the time our grandchildren are ready to retire, the debt could be zero. The government needs to understand the moral repercussions and devastating consequences the decisions of the few will have upon the many if government continues to spend what it does not have.
Protect its profit centers: Government needs to begin to take measures to protect its profit centers. This means the working poor, the middle class, the upper working class, the business owners, and major businesses that create the jobs, trade, and contribute to GDP. Instead of imposing new taxes on a citizenship already burdened with seeing up to 40 percent of their earnings being taken as taxes, the government needs to widen the scope of new opportunities for those that can contribute to the tax paying pool. This means that government needs more new business development. Over 60 percent of today’s jobs are created by small businesses. These locally owned business enterprises rely on the market’s pre-existing conditions and the probability of those conditions to change in the future for the better. Government needs to peel away the obstacles so that small business can flourish, which will spur off the establishment of more small businesses. As these businesses expand, they hire a workforce, which also contribute to income tax. Some state governments eager to solve its shrinking profit centers, have legalized marijuana as a new industry so it can be taxed, or have deregulated the gambling industry. These are only short-term fixes and promote activities which are a detriment to communities, not a boon.
Once the government has gotten its spending concerns under control by living within its means, it can then rethink how it will address its revenue. When government stops spending more than it takes in, and more than it borrows, it needs less revenue to cover the functions of serving the people. Tax code reform then can be simplified to a real standard that sets a pace where each tax paying individual (or business entity) has a pathway of making their reasonable contribution to government’s call for tax revenues in serving the public interest that does not force families and businesses to have to make hard cuts that affect their ability to provide for their own.
Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.