UPDATE, April 17, 2012: While Senator Pryor’s office in the below statement claims that Pryor is concerned about millionaires not paying their fair share in taxes (“It is maddening that hundreds of millionaires pay virtually no federal income taxes, and this should change”), Pryor recently joined Senate Republicans in voting down President Obama’s proposal for a minimum tax on income millionaires (the “Buffett rule”). What does Pryor really stand for? A fairer tax system, or tax privileges for the super rich? His actions unambiguously point to the second.
Michael Teague from the office of Senator Pryor emailed Arkansas Media Watch a clarification regarding Pryor’s remarks about tax fairness. Full text below the fold. It is essentially the same account as recently given by John Brummett: Pryor allegedly was misquoted.
AMW has asked NWA Times editor Greg Harton and journalist Larry Henry for confirmation what Pryor actually said and they have not responded. This is not reassuring. The newspaper pretends to have a policy of correcting any factual mistakes. So far this hasn’t happened. Let’s hope that the newspaper takes the incident seriously and is more careful in its future reporting.
On the other hand, Pryor’s clarification still raises some issues. Pryor expresses concern “that 1,470 taxpayers who earned $1 million or more paid no federal income taxes in 2009”. But a statement like “It’s hard to have a fair tax system where only about half the people are paying”, assuming it is meant to only refer to the federal income tax, seems to imply that more of the working poor and the elderly should be paying income taxes. Or does Pryor think half the people are millionaires? When you care about tax fairness, why would you single out just one component of the tax system? Why discuss only “the inequities in the federal income tax system, [as opposed to] city, state or even sales or excise taxes” – not to mention federal payroll taxes?
The full statement from Mark Pryor’s office below the fold:
I’m happy to provide clarity regarding Senator Pryor’s remarks at the Rogers Rotary last week. He supports a progressive tax system and believes everyone should pay to their ability. When talking about federal tax reform last week, it was very clear he was talking about Federal income taxes and special tax deals for corporations. He was there to discuss, in part, the inequities in the federal income tax system, not city, state or even sales or excise taxes.
There is no disputing the fact that there are a number of Americans who don’t pay federal income tax. In its analysis of IRS 2009 tax data, the Tax Policy Center shows that 46 percent of taxpayers paid no federal income tax. Approximately three-fourths of these individuals are elderly or the working poor. On the flip side, the IRS reports that 1,470 taxpayers who earned $1 million or more paid no federal income taxes in 2009. It is maddening that hundreds of millionaires pay virtually no federal income taxes, and this should change.
The entire tax reform discussion in Rogers was focused on creating a more fair federal income tax system and eliminating as many special deals for special interest which are adding to our debt. One example was the fact that Wal-Mart pays over 30 percent in federal taxes and GE paid none last year. His point was that GE should be paying its fair share.
Senator Pryor also said that the Republicans and the Democrats are wrong on taxes. The Republicans are wrong when they say that we shouldn’t raise any taxes at any time and under any circumstance. And the Democrats are wrong by saying taxing millionaires more will solve all of our debt and spending problems. He believes that we should put everything on the table when discussing tax reform, including $1.1 trillion a year in special interest tax breaks.
The resulting attacks from the Rogers Rotary article from ideological sources should be taken with a grain of salt. Given your mission, I’m sure you understand that reporting on an event second-hand falls short and does not allow reporters, columnists or anonymous bloggers to get the full context of a discussion. Many times these pieces serve only to advance inaccuracies, stir up unnecessary concern and damage the author’s credibility.
Please contact me if I can be further assistance.
As an aside, Senator Boozman’s misleading statements (reported here) are not in doubt because audio recording is available.
Since this has already been a long post, let’s finish with some excerpts from an excellent New York Times editorial right on topic:
In a decade of frenzied tax-cutting for the rich, the Republican Party just happened to lower tax rates for the poor, as well. Now several of the party’s most prominent presidential candidates and lawmakers want to correct that oversight and raise taxes on the poor and the working class, while protecting the rich, of course. These Republican leaders, who think nothing of widening tax loopholes for corporations and multimillion-dollar estates, are offended by the idea that people making less than $40,000 might benefit from the progressive tax code.(…)
Representative Michele Bachmann noted recently that 47 percent of Americans do not pay federal income tax; all of them, she said, should pay something because they benefit from parks, roads and national security. (Interesting that she acknowledged government has a purpose.) Gov. Rick Perry, in the announcement of his candidacy, said he was dismayed at the “injustice” that nearly half of Americans do not pay income tax. Jon Huntsman Jr., up to now the most reasonable in the Republican presidential field, said not enough Americans pay tax.
Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and several senators have made similar arguments, variations of the idea expressed earlier by Senator Dan Coats of Indiana that “everyone needs to have some skin in the game.” This is factually wrong, economically wrong and morally wrong. First, the facts: a vast majority of Americans have skin in the tax game. Even if they earn too little to qualify for the income tax, they pay payroll taxes (which Republicans want to raise), gasoline excise taxes and state and local taxes. Only 14 percent of households pay neither income nor payroll taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center at the Brookings Institution. The poorest fifth paid an average of 16.3 percent of income in taxes in 2010. (…)
The real problem is that so many Americans are struggling on such a small income, not whether they pay taxes. The two tax credits lifted 7.2 million people out of poverty in 2009, including four million children. At a time when high-income households are paying their lowest share of federal taxes in decades, when corporations frequently avoid paying any tax, it is clear who should bear a larger burden and who should not.