Opinion: Fact vs. Mitt Romney’s fiction on income taxes

Kansas City Star

Kansas City Star (MCT)

Meet Claudine Thomas of Kansas City.

In recent years she has been part of the 47 percent or so of Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes.

That group came screeching into the nationwide political debate this week with the release of a video of GOP nominee Mitt Romney speaking to well-heeled donors at a May fundraiser.

Romney analyzed his campaign against President Barack Obama in startling terms:

“All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it,” Romney said.

“These are people who pay no income tax. … 47 percent of Americans pay no income tax. … (M)y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Romney was speaking to his amen corner, not knowing his blunt comments were being recorded. Even so, his broad brush swept far outside the lines.

The Republican presidential nominee has insulted tens of millions of Americans who have legitimate reasons for not paying income taxes. Among their ranks are retired senior citizens, disabled Americans, low-income workers and college students.

They are people like Thomas, 82, who was an office worker for Ford and General Motors before going back to school to become a nurse. “I worked all the time my children were growing up,” she says.

She paid into Social Security and Medicare, which covers part but not all of her medical expenses. Thomas lives in a modest Brookside-area home, on which she pays a “big hunk” of real estate taxes, close to $3,000 a year. She responsibly pays for her taxes, utilities, food and most other living expenses with funds from Social Security, a small pension, a 401(k) and a few investments.

Thomas is also a passionate traveler. She just returned from a 4,600-mile, month-long car trip to the eastern United States.

“I love America,” she says. “I love seeing the country.”

By Tuesday, Romney conceded some nonpayers support him and some deserve to be exempted from paying, such as retirees and members of the military. This flare-up could actually benefit the country by helping Americans better understand who pays federal income taxes, and why. Several eye-opening facts rolled out this week:

–60 percent of those who don’t pay income taxes still pay into Social Security and Medicare. Many pay up to 15.3 percent in payroll taxes (including their employers’ share), higher than the 13.9 percent federal tax rate Romney paid in 2010.

–22 percent of nonpayers are retirees, like Thomas, often with low or no incomes from taxable sources.

–The Bush tax cuts, along with other federal rules, have reduced or eliminated the tax load on millions of people. That includes some of the super-rich, plus low-income households that use the Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit to legally avoid paying income taxes.

–Romney’s derogatory comments swept up many of his Republican supporters as well – such as the Deep South (a solid GOP bloc), plus older Americans who tend to vote for his party’s nominees. In fact, eight of the 10 U.S. states with the highest percentages of people who don’t pay income taxes are expected to be in the Romney column this November.

During his talk to wealthy donors, Romney said that Americans who don’t pay income taxes are “people who will vote for (Obama) no matter what.” That’s simply not true. As the figures above prove, many nonpayers will support him.

But not Thomas. She’s a longtime liberal who’d love to have an Obama bumper sticker for her car.

Asked about her chances of voting for Romney, she gives a feisty reply: “You know damn well I’m not.”