Media reports in recent weeks say that Senate Democrats are considering a 3% surtax on income over $1 million to raise federal revenues. This would come on top of the higher income tax rates that President Obama has already proposed through the cancellation of the Bush era tax-rate reductions.
If the Democrats’ millionaire surtax were to happen—and were added to other tax increases already enacted last year and other leading tax hike ideas on the table this year—this could leave the U.S. with a combined federal and state top tax rate on earnings of 62%. That’s more than double the highest federal marginal rate of 28% when President Reagan left office in 1989. Welcome back to the 1970s.
What is particularly worrisome about this trend is the deterioration of the U.S. tax position relative to the rest of our economic rivals. In 1990, the highest individual income tax rate of our major economic trading partners was 51%, while the U.S. was much lower at 33%. It’s no wonder that during the 1980s and ’90s the U.S. created more than twice as many new jobs as Japan and Western Europe combined.
Despite all of this, the refrain from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and most of the Democrats in Congress is our fiscal mess is a result of “tax cuts for the rich.” When? Where? Who? The Tax Foundation recently noted that in 2009 the U.S. collected a higher share of income and payroll taxes (45%) from the richest 10% of tax filers than any other nation, including such socialist welfare states as Sweden (27%), France (28%) and Germany (31%). And this was before the rate hikes that Democrats are now endorsing.
Perhaps there can still be a happy ending to this sad tale of U.S. decline. If there were ever a right time to trade in the junk heap of our federal tax code for a pro-growth Steve Forbes-style flat tax, now’s the time.