WALTER MONDALE raised the ``tax fairness'' question in his debate with Ronald Reagan. The implication that the well-to-do in this country don't pay their fair share of taxes was offensive to me then as now, when Dan Rostenkowski used that argument in the recent budget crisis. I voted for Mondale and Dukakis, not for their leadership capacities, but because Democrats have historically believed that every American must be given the opportunity to achieve, given sufficient effort, contrary to Republican philosophies of ``I've got mine, so everything must be all right'' and ``trickle-down economics.''
But now I'm angry because I do pay my ``fair share'' of the tax burden - and more - and resent any implication to the contrary.
About 40 percent of my gross income goes to various federal, state, and local taxes. If that's not enough, how much is? Fifty percent? Sixty?
Democrats argue that the tax system is not progressive. I believe in a progressive tax system because the well-to-do can and should bear more of the burden, not out of charity, but because it's fair and in everyone's best interest to increase opportunities for those just starting out, or with more difficult circumstances.
I also believe that the current tax system is already very progressive, when disposition of our tax dollars is considered. All Americans benefit more or less equally from defense, infrastructure, and environmental spending. This is not true, however, for social programs. For example, my family's payments to Social Security (paid directly or on our behalf) are dollars we will never get back proportionately. With interest at just 6 percent per year, these contributions would provide about $170,000 per year when I reach age 65. My family will receive much less, if we benefit at all.
Most of our contributions will go to others needing the money more, and that's all right with me. Just don't tell me that Social Security taxes are regressive. The same argument applies to most social programs - the well-to-do contribute significantly, but can expect little or no dollar return, making these taxes very progressive.
I want the Democrats to tell me what is ``fair,'' if 40 percent of my gross income is not enough. How much more can I give and still save for retirement, my children's education, and retain some incentive to achieve. It's the opportunity to get ahead, based on your own efforts, that makes America America.
Sixteen years ago, having completed my education, I had no money. I did have lots of ambition and drive. I certainly had advantages: my upbringing by my immigrant parents, their emphasis on education, their demand for excellence, a strong personal desire to succeed, and the knowledge that I could make it on my own, if I worked hard and well. Like everyone else, I had disadvantages, despite which I never asked for a break, or received special assistance.
Over the years, we have reaped the benefits of hard work and frugal living. I pay my taxes and don't complain. Democratic leaders who say I don't pay enough are appealing to emotion, and thus diverting attention from their unwillingness to level with the American people on difficult issues.
Instead of resorting to slogans, why not tell us the truth?
1. Tell Americans we're not entitled to a better life every year, unless we earn it by increasing productivity. Remind us that productivity grows only when we are dedicated to achievement.
2. Admit we could cut actual defense spending by $100 billion plus and still meet our military needs. We can't do it right away due to economic dislocation. It can be done, however, over five years, which would get spending in line, and allow defense workers to retrain.
3. Change Social Security and Medicare, so that my generation understands the money won't be there for all of us. Protect the older citizens who really need the support, but those who can pay for their own retirement, should.
4. Stop lying about entitlements. The Consumer Price Index, on which all cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) are based, overstates actual cost-of-living increases in times of inflation. We could save billions by making COLAs reflect economic reality.
5. Discard the notion that the government must ensure success for the ``disadvantaged.'' Government's only obligation is to give every citizen a fair chance to succeed. The rest is up to us.
I'm sure that many Americans, like me, are offended by rhetoric about ``tax fairness.'' Democrats should work for a government that provides equal opportunity, not handouts, and acknowledge that success is not a birthright, but the result of great effort. For leaders with that outlook and the political will to use my taxes effectively, I'll pay my 40 percent gladly and continue to support our progressive tax system.