By Mark Buescher, C.P.A. – Guest Columnist
As I look out of our office window here in Madison, I can not help but notice the Four Freedoms Monument standing proudly at the corner of North Range Avenue and East Base Street. The monument was presented to the City of Madison on June 14, 1944 to the memory of World War II hero and Madison native Colin P. Kelly, Jr.
The Four Freedoms Monument was commissioned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt following his articulation of the “Four Freedoms” in his 1941 State of the Union Address. The monument represents the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom of want, and the freedom from fear.
On the eve of America’s involvement in World War II, Roosevelt stated, “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.” Roosevelt felt that the goals outlined in his speech were “attainable in our own time and generation.”
Since Roosevelt’s speech, our country has worked hard to not only maintain those freedoms but also to help others around the world maintain those freedoms as well. Roosevelt believed that the freedoms should be spread “everywhere in the world.”
Of course, the four essential freedoms that we love and cherish, but sometimes take for granted, have come with a price. Countless thousands of Americans, including Colin Kelly, have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect those freedoms so that our families and future generations can live according to Roosevelt’s vision. After all, Roosevelt’s vision is our vision.
But just how far should we go to maintain those freedoms? For instance, have we taken “freedom from want” to a level beyond Roosevelt’s vision? Or, are we on the right track, continuing to strive toward his vision. In his speech, he states “The Third is freedom from want – which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy, peacetime life for its inhabitants – everywhere in the world.”
It is important we spread our “economic understanding” to not only America’s inhabitants, but also to the inhabitants of the world. After all, when nations experience economic stability and its citizens experience freedom from want, the world order is more peaceful and nations work together and strive for a friendlier, civilized society. But spreading our freedoms comes at a cost other than the sacrifice of American lives. Our freedoms come at a cost of dollars and cents as well. These costs equate to taxation upon every American.
Sometimes I wonder, should Roosevelt have added another freedom to his list of four. Should he have added “freedom of excessive tax burdens” or “freedom of government over-spending?” Just how much do our current “freedoms” cost?
Currently, Americans will spend an average of 28% of their income to pay federal, state and local taxes this year, according to the Tax Foundation. In other words, every working American will need to work 102 days – more than three months – just to earn enough to pay their tax bill.
This year’s “Tax Freedom Day,” as the Tax Foundation calls it, came three days later than last year. The Foundation calculates Tax Freedom Day based on various taxes such as income, social security, sales, property and other taxes. “Other” taxes includes taxes paid in all aspects of our daily lives, including taxes at the fuel pump, taxes on our cell phone usage, and even the “sin” taxes such as taxes on tobacco and alcohol.
While the overall average of 102 days may seem like a long time to be working for our government, it’s less time than the record of 121 days we had to work in 2000, when the booming economy boosted incomes and led to the collection of far more income tax. That was before the Bush-era tax cuts kicked in. But be aware, the trend is in a strong reversal mode, and the number of days before achieving Tax Freedom Day is projected to continue to rise year after year into the immediate future.
But here is another statistic from the foundation: If the government were to collect enough taxes to fund all spending for 2011 (with no deficit), Americans would have to work an average of 41 more days each year to provide the additional $1.48 trillion of revenue needed. Tax Freedom Day would fall on May 23 – the latest deficit-inclusive Tax Freedom Day since World War II.
Indeed, our freedoms throughout our history have come at a cost – both in human sacrifice and tax dollars. The question will always be the same: Just how much should our freedoms cost? Or perhaps, should Roosevelt have added another freedom to his list of four?
Mark Buescher, CPA is owner and principal of Buescher and Ruff, LLC, a local full service accounting firm in Madison, specializing in tax preparation, business consulting and tax planning. Tax laws contain varying effective dates and numerous limitations and exemptions that cannot be summarized easily. For details and guidance for your specific situation, contact your tax advisor.