David M. Brown's Blog

May 26, 2013

U.S. Senate candidate Ed Markey, tax-break foe, reports abundant deductions

Filed under: Economics,Politics — davidmbrowndotcom @ 5:47 pm

Congressman Ed Markey has chastised income earners for seeking to keep their tax bills as low as possible. But has he ever tried to minimize his own tax bill?

Deviating from his 37-year policy as an elected official of keeping his tax matters private, Democratic U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey, now running for U.S. Senate, on May 24 released tax-return data for the last several years.

The returns show a 25% total tax bite of the Massachusetts congressman’s income of $161,443 for 2012. He paid 20% of his income to the federal government and 5% to the state of Massachusetts. From 2008 through 2012, his total state and federal taxes ranged from 18% to 25% of his annual income.

The Boston Herald notes that Congressman Markey’s release of his returns was “timed for the Friday before a holiday weekend in an attempt to minimize the impact on his campaign. He had been delaying putting the returns out for more than a week despite Democrats attacking Gomez for failing to release enough years of his returns.” Gabriel Gomez is Markey’s Republican opponent in the June 25 special election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by former U.S. Senator John Kerry, now the U.S. Secretary of State.

Both the contents of tax returns and a candidate’s reluctance to make tax-return details public can be fodder for mere demagoguery. During the recent presidential election, for instance, Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, used Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s reluctance to release his tax returns to accuse Romney of “basically [paying] no taxes in the prior 12 years,” a vaporous charge for which Reid refused to provide evidence, and which was soon confuted.

But tax-return information can also be used to legitimately expose a politician’s hypocrisy ─ e.g., if his conduct as income earner or as tax-filer contradicts some of the key doctrines that inform his policy-making.

The Boston Globe reports that Congressman Markey has habitually taken large deductions, which include “about $9,000 a year in work-related deductions.” His deductions were as high as $49,066 in a single tax year. Thus, it seems that the congressman has made liberal use of the much Markey-reviled “tax breaks” to reduce his taxes.

Does he therefore believe himself to be tearing lucre from the beneficiaries of government handout programs?

The question is pertinent because in a 2011 article on his congressional web site, Congressman Markey is quoted as saying that he regards the efforts of “Exxon-Mobil, BP and other large companies” to keep “unnecessary tax breaks” as “the kind of shocking, tin-eared, tone-deaf, special-interest lobbying that has Americans sick and tired of how political power is wielded in Washington. Every dollar given to an oil company is another dollar taken away from Medicare, from student loan assistance, from child hunger programs. This isn’t some kind of cute social media campaign, it’s an anti-social safety net monstrosity that should be given the hashtag #CLUELESS.”

Hmm. Perhaps nobody should be allowed to keep any of his honestly earned money?

This passage comes to us via the same congressman who has formally asserted, in Congress, that “Christians had a better chance against the lions than the consumer has against the oil companies at the pumps in the United States today” (the clip is on YouTube), thus demonstrating a puzzling inability to distinguish between murder and shopping.

The anti-tax-break fulminations quoted on Markey’s congressional web site invite the reader to conclude that:

1) A person or company that earns an income by productive effort is not entitled by right to the fruits of that effort.

2) To earn profit on the market is somehow to take the money from other persons not involved in the relevant voluntary transactions. If I pay for a gallon of gas and the gas station owner or oil company employees then deploy the revenue I have given them for their own purposes, to pay bills and so forth, there’s something wrong about their doing so.

3) Running a productive, profitable company does not create jobs that keep persons off welfare rolls. In a free market, wealth cannot be used to produce more wealth. If a successful company is free to use and dispose of a greater percentage of its own income than politicians would prefer, the company either cannot or will not use that wealth to expand or improve its operations and to hire more employees. Very large companies do not employ more persons or pay more vendors than do very small companies.

4) Any attempt to keep more of one’s own honestly earned income from politicians trying to grab ever more of it proves that one is “tone-deaf” to the demands of those trying to grab more of one’s money. (By similar reasoning, any mugger would be entitled to scream “Hey, don’t be tone-deaf!” if his victim objects to turning over the wallet.)

One cannot necessarily call any congressman’s labors “productive,” as opposed to, say, counterproductive. But the question may still be asked: Since Congressman Markey, just like the large oil companies, has sought to reduce his tax burden by exploiting tax breaks, does Markey also regard himself as shockingly tone-deaf and inadequately subservient to the demands of government welfare program recipients and/or politicians?

If not, does Congressman Markey still regard large oil companies ─ profit-seeking entities that do offer something of value to people ─ as shockingly tone-deaf and inadequately subservient to the demands of government welfare program recipients and/or politicians?

If not, will Congressman Markey recant his attacks on the persons running large oil companies for trying to keep as much of their own honestly earned wealth as possible?

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