Unclassified Info: Taxes, tax breaks and the American way

I’m not feeling particularly rosy this election day. Like a lot of people, I’ve been crunching numbers, gathering receipts and pouring a little more single malt into my glass in order to prepare for one of life’s more unpleasant inevitabilities — taxes. Now that I’m almost done, I think I may need another shot.

I worked all year, had approximately 25% of my wages taken out by the taxman, and now that April 15 draws near, I discovered that I still owe a hefty sum to Uncle Sam. In short, any money I managed to save over the course of a very long year of labor will be swallowed up paying more taxes.

It is disheartening to have a job in which I work 45-50 hours per week, commute 23 miles each way and sacrifice much of my personal life. To know that I am not the only one in this leaking life raft is not particularly comforting, either. As a country, we work harder and spend less time enjoying ourselves than many other countries. At times it seems like the new American dream consists of little more than a daily grind free from the constant harassment of bill collectors. Yippee!

In 2009, I was laid off. I worked less than five months, collected unemployment, had a lot of free time, managed to pay all of my bills, and got a modest return at tax time. I think I might have been happier.

Contrary to what the above seems to indicate, I’m no slacker; not by any stretch of the imagination. Collecting unemployment is not a preferred lifestyle choice. I do enjoy working at things I love. But there comes a point when it feels like those of us in the middle class are being asked to work harder and pay more than our fellow Americans at the top of the heap. As I look for balance in my life between work and fulfillment, there comes a point when all my hard work feels like it goes to pay for someone else’s milkshake. I want a sip.

I love living in America. More than most, I rely on certain inalienable rights — like freedom of press and speech — in order to treat you all to my decidedly liberal (or if you follow Glenn Beck, anti-American) rants. Speaking of which, is it unrealistic to expect big corporations to pay their fair share of the tax pool?

When I compare what I pay in taxes to the amount paid by a corporation like General Electric — which, according to the New York Times, reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion and claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion, I definitely feel like us little guys are getting the short end of the taxation stick.

I expect letters will arrive from patriotic Americans telling me how GE’s tax break is good for America, keeps American ingenuity at a premium and helps employ millions of hard-working Americans. As if GE needs more lobbyists. As a very American pre-emptive strike, let me submit the following: Since 2002, GE has eliminated a fifth of its work force in the United States while increasing overseas employment. For this it gets to exploit loopholes with more than 900 tax experts on payroll and get a tax break? Maybe it’s time to try something new, like, eliminate more than one percent of your domestic work force and all tax loopholes are closed without exception. Let’s see how many American jobs are eliminated under that tax code.

So how does this seemingly disproportionate tax break for the corporation (GE) versus the common man (you and me) have any bearing on election day in Glendale? I’m glad you asked.

With taxes and spending on my mind, I’ve been thinking about what I would ask any candidate running for any office, including the locals running today. Here are three questions I’d like every politician, local or otherwise, to answer with a straight face:

1: “Twenty-five percent of my earnings were taken from my paycheck every week. And I will pay even more on April 15. Since I don’t get to use that money to improve my own life directly, what exactly are you doing to ensure that my hard-earned money goes to provide the best possible education and health care for my children?”

2: “Big corporations and their executives are reaping larger and more disproportionate rewards and tax breaks while at the same time, the vast majority of Americans are struggling to make ends meet, find jobs and create lives in which they can afford more than their credit card debt. What is your plan to shift this trend?”

3: “Assuming you could not directly answer either of the above questions with a straight face and instead relied on finger-pointing or stock rhetoric and bluster from your political party, why should anyone bother to give you their vote?”

GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is currently working on his second novel and the second half of his life. He can be reached at gh@garyhuerta.com.

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