Does a fair tax exist? Is a progressive tax better than a proportional tax? These are difficult questions since taxes affect people in different household situations in different ways. Three criteria used in assessing the fairness of taxes are benefits received, ability to pay, and the payment burden.
The fairness criterion states that people should pay taxes in proportion to the benefits they receive from the government.
An example is the use of gasoline taxes and driver’s license fees for road construction and repairs.
Equitable as the benefits-received criterion may seem, it is very difficult to implement.
Ability to Pay
A commonly accepted criterion of tax fairness is that individuals with different amounts of wealth or income should pay different amounts of taxes.
Supporters of ability to pay usually argue that high tax bills hurt the rich less than the poor. This argument is the basis for the progressive tax, in which tax rates increase as the level of taxable income increases. The federal income tax is a progressive tax.
In a proportional tax, or flat tax, a constant tax rate is applied to all levels of the tax base. Many state and local income taxes are examples of proportional taxes.
Some proportional taxes may seem fair, but in fact they penalize people in low income groups. For example, when all individuals are charged sales tax on food, low income people who use a larger portion of their incomes for necessities, pay a greater percentage of their total income for sales tax than people with higher incomes pay. A regressive tax of this kind involves taxes that decrease, as a portion of income, as the tax base increases and tend to place a heavier burden on the poor. For this reason, many states do not tax sales of food and medications.
Many people believe only individuals pay taxes. Although businesses pay property and income taxes, some observers contend that these taxes are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.
We pay many indirect taxes of this kind. In addition to those just mentioned, a portion of building owners’ real estate taxes are paid by tenants as part of their rent.
In contrast, direct taxes cannot be passed on to someone else. Property taxes paid by homeowners and income taxes paid by individuals are examples of direct taxes.
Does a fair tax exist? Would you rather pay a tax directly or indirectly? Is a progressive tax better than a proportional tax? What is your opinion?