STAKETaxes, which hit you where it hurts, are...

WHAT IS AT

October 17, 1992|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau

WHAT IS AT STAKE

Taxes, which hit you where it hurts, are inevitably a core conflict in every presidential campaign. Ever since the cry of "no taxation without representation" went up at the Boston Tea Party, the issue has been central to U.S. politics.

Taxes can be politically as well as financially painful: remember Walter Mondale's embrace of tax increases that led to his 1984 defeat; or George Bush's rejection of them in 1988, his acceptance of them in 1990, and his final apologetic flip-flop this year?

The three 1992 presidential candidates differ over taxes as much as any issue. George Bush rejects any increases. Bill Clinton targets the rich. Ross Perot would hit everyone.

Whoever wins, taxes, in one form or another, will increase, if recent history is any guide. This year, federal, state and local tax collectors are likely to garner $1.781 trillion from individuals and corporations, according to the independent Tax Foundation.

To keep tabs on what is happening, the foundation has created a Tax Index, which charts withholdings by the various levels of government, much as the Consumer Price Index monitors prices charged by the nation's sundry retailers.

In 1982 the Tax Index stood at 100. In the second quarter of this year it was pegged at 185, meaning that the total dollar amount collected in taxes increased 85 percent over the decade.

Although the conventional political wisdom is that voters are fed up with paying more in taxes, a study this year by the labor-backed Citizens For Tax Justice found that there was virtually no difference in the turn-over of incumbent legislators between states that had imposed significant tax increases and states that had resisted them.

The group concluded: "Elected officials don't have to be anti-tax to survive...The truth is the America public is not as knee-jerk anti-tax as many have claimed." Next month's election will shed light on whether that point is well made.

WHAT THEY HAVE SAID

George Bush: "Unlike my opponent, I do not believe the American people are undertaxed. Quite the opposite. I am committed to cutting taxes across the board...That's the direction I want to go: tax less, spend less, cut the deficit."

Bill Clinton: "If they want to have this election on their tax record against mine, on whether people got their money's worth here (in Arkansas) as opposed to the national government, that's fine with me."

Ross Perot: "We need to equalize and simplify the tax code. Our current system is like an old inner tube covered with patches. Most of the patches were put there to protect some special interest. We need a new, simpler system."

WHAT THEY HAVE DONE

George Bush: Increased a variety of corporate, excise and foreign taxes in 1989, and agreed with Congress to increase individual, capital gains, gasoline, tobacco, alcohol taxes, and heighten the Medicare wage cap in 1990 in what he has since called the biggest mistake of his first term. Extended a variety of tax breaks for low-income housing and targeted jobs, modified the corporate alternative minimum tax in 1989. Signed another series of tax-break extensions, incentives for energy production and small businesses, and earned income tax credit modifications in 1990.

Bill Clinton: Raised Arkansas gasoline and the so-called "sin" taxes on tobacco and alcohol; increased state sales tax; established tourism levy; taxed receipts from interstate phone calls and cable TV services; increased motor vehicle inspection fee, charged $25 for reinstatement of suspended driving licence, and imposed extra court costs, including $250 for DWI convictions; increased corporate income tax. Cut taxes on drugs, oxygen, autos for blind veterans, food purchased with food stamps; gave $100 tax credit for each manufacturing job in enterprise zone; tax credits for water conservation, plant construction; exempted low-income families and individuals from filing state returns.

Ross Perot: As a successful businessman, the independent candidate has not amassed a tax policy record, but in his book, "United We Stand: How We Can Take Back Our Country," he makes it clear that he is not impressed with the current system: "Our two parties are locked into their ideologies. The Democratic Party's platform this year admits tax and spend policies don't work. Then it goes right ahead to offer a program of massive government spending...which will have to be paid for by higher taxes or even more debt. The Republicans, still clinging to the hope that our economy will right itself on its own, offer no program at all."

WHAT THEY WILL DO

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