Like many people my income has been stagnant. I’m not complaining. I can pay the mortgage, keep the lights on, feed myself, cover other costs and even give money to non-profits that are making a big difference in Manteca including the Boys & Girls Club, Second Harvest Food Bank, Manteca Rotary, and HOPE Family Shelter to name a few.
Discussing money for many isn’t considered polite so if you will indulge my bad manners for a moment I need to set the record straight about the so-called “crumbs” that many who opposed the federal tax cuts said most of us would get, specifically those in the middle and working classes.
I paid $820 less in combined state and federal taxes for 2018 for a total of $8,795 or just over a seventh of my gross income. I paid $37 more in state taxes and $857 less in federal taxes.
For the record, $820 is not crumbs to me — even though some cynics will point out it comes to $15.77 a week.
So what did those “crumbs” allow me to do. It helped cover a $318 increase in my property taxes. That left $500. Rest assured much of the balance got eaten up by price increases in food, insurance and other necessities as well as a few non-essentials. What I did end up doing, though, was increasing my contribution to the Boys & Girls Club by $500 which by chance when you add my increased property tax bill ate up all but $2 of the “crumbs” I got in what Uncle Sam once took from my pocket. I wasn’t exactly to the point of pinching pennies before but it is safe to say I try to be smart with my money. I cut back on some expenses that were ridiculous — I lost my stomach to be held up by Comcast cable — that was more than enough to make up for various price increases in necessities.
The bottom line is those “crumbs” allowed me to counter stagnant income in a world where there are price increases on common needs. It allowed me to cover what I believe is the final year of the county assessor recouping my drop in property value during the Great Recession which means going forward under Proposition 13 next year’s hit in property tax increases will be capped at a manageable $48 unless, of course, the folks in Sacramento manage to gut Proposition 13 as they threaten to do.
A non-profit that has played a pivotal role in helping mentor kids to steer them on a path toward success and out of trouble and is struggling with a lot of expenses centered around minimum wage increases got $500 more.
I do not consider being able to use a federal cut tax to absorb a significant increase in my property tax or to assist the Boys & Girls Club “crumbs”. For a person like me it is more like a whole slice of bread.
Since the crumb analogy in terms of trying to frame the positive impact on the middle and working class was used to argue against the tax cut, in my case that $820 slice of bread I received was based on the fact I earned three loaves of bread last year with 25 slices per loaf.
The state got a little bit over 2.7 slices from those three loaves while Uncle Sam got eight slices and some crumbs.
That left me with 63 slices. But in reality if you factor sales tax, gas tax, and all the numerous taxes collapsed into the products we buy that manufacturers pay on raw materials, transportation, and income the Tax Foundation experts argue that as a Californian I worked until May 1 last year to cover all my taxes and government assessments. That is the equivalent of 24.69 slices of one of the three 25-slice loaves of bread I earned last year.
Do not misunderstand me. I am not whining about my tax burden. It’s just that those of us who aren’t serving in Congress and who don’t reside in a 3,700-square-foot house in San Francisco’s tony Pacific Heights neighborhood, own a 16-acre Napa Valley vineyard, own an upscale Georgetown condo and on disclosure forms list assets between $43.4 million and $202 million, having another $820 in our pocket isn’t a crumb.
There have been attempts this tax season to fan the flames of discontent by noting many are getting smaller tax returns or have to pay taxes. It ignores the fact that their tax burdens for 2018 were actually lower than they were for 2017.
We all have control of our withholding amounts. The truth is almost all of us had more money in our pocket from our paychecks.
When Ronald Reagan was governor of California he successfully fought a bid by the California Legislature to increase payroll withholding taxes on the heels of a large state income tax increase elected leaders imposed, he was asked by a reporter during his weekly press conference why he opposed increased withholding.
His answer from the hip was that “taxes are supposed to hurt.”
It was interpreted by some as a flippant remark. But it underscored the reality that few of us have a firm grasp of how much taxes we pay as more often than not more is taken from our paychecks than what we owe and then most of us get a nice fat refund check once a year.
Many act as if it is “free” or “extra” money when in fact it was their money that was taken from them by the government and held for as long as 12 months without paying a cent in interest.
For years I purposely have under withheld my state and local taxes. That means I typically end up writing checks for a combined one-sixth of my overall tax liability to the IRS and Franchise Tax Board. I set aside money for that purpose throughout the year. The amount of interest I received on it in 2018 was meager, just under $28. That said it was $28 more than I would have received if the IRS and Franchise Tax Board had taken it from me every other week.
Defenders of the “forced” overpayment of taxes from paychecks like to argue the masses lack the will power to save so therefore over withholding is doing us all a favor. Yet you’ll notice that the so-called de facto savings plan does not pay a cent in interest.
I get that taxes are what provides us with “amenities” such as police, fire, schools, parks, and more. At the same time I like being acutely aware of what it costs me.
Between writing two checks on April 15 and putting aside money each month to make sure I can cover them, I am well aware of what my government is costing me.
Just like me, the government needs bread to survive.
And to be clear I did not receive crumbs from the tax cut nor did almost anyone else who is middle class or working class. We received a slice of bread that helped feed day-to-day needs and — quite honestly — to cover the tab of increased taxes that the State of California received as the result of the federal tax cut as well as increases in property taxes and gas taxes.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.