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Monday, February 21, 2005

That AMT feeling

I can't believe it. I did a rough draft of my income taxes last night, and I discovered that I'm subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT)!

Egads. This is the shadowy federal tax that middle- and upper-income folks have to pay when their deductions get too large. For me, the culprits are the dependency exemptions for the kids, and the huge deduction I get for all the state and local taxes I pay here in Portland -- the highest of any town west of the Mississippi. Although those dependents and taxes are deductible for "regular" federal income tax purposes, they're not deductible for purposes of the AMT.

And if the AMT is greater than your regular tax, you have to pay the AMT. That's why they call it the alternative minimum tax.

Guess it's time to join the chorus that's seeking repeal of the AMT. Either Congress is serious about the deductions for dependents and state and local taxes, or it isn't. And it's time to reform the tax system in Oregon, and Portland in particular, so that we aren't all penalized by the AMT and have to send even more money to the feds.

Oh man, do I ever sound like a Republican now. The AMT -- I still can't believe it. Better check those numbers one more time.

Funny how one's academic views of tax policy tend to change when one's own wallet is being tapped.

UPDATE, 11:23 a.m.: How interesting. I just noticed that the Times has a front page story on this today. (If you get an ad, the escape to the story is in the upper right-hand corner.)

Comments (16)

Well, as a line in The Onion's new home-owners guide put it some time back:

"Prepare to see your political ideology swing wildly to the right".

Yeah, every lefty loves the idea of higher taxes, until they find out that they themselves have to pay them.

Don't complain (you're rich, right, or else you wouldn't be paying the AMT), just empty your wallet and count your blessings; it's for the children.

Hey Jack,

Welcome to the "super wealthy" who otherwise wouldn't be paying their fair share.

A little bit of AMT ain't bad. Think about it as audit insurance. If the IRS challenges your deductions, you're protected since if they say your contributions to the Goodwill weren't really worth as much as you say they were, your tax obligation will remain the same!

A lot of AMT is a b----!

What's the canned answer justifying the AMT? It seems to me the best justification is that Congress has been adding deductions, for this and that, for so many years that they can't keep track of it anymore.

In my mind's eye, I see members of Congress sitting around saying, "Yeah, let's give a deduction for that", without really reconciling it with the rest of the code. So you could end up with this "perfect storm" of a tax payer who has a relatively high income, but pays little or no tax - and that is not what Congress had in mind when they passed those deductions, even though it may be a logical consequence of their actions.

Well, nader, that's exactly why the AMT was created. In the late '60s, there were taxpayers who, well, didn't pay any tax. It's designed to catch the very wealthiest taxpayers, not, you know, Jack. (No offense.)

The problem today is that the AMT's provisions for deductions aren't indexed for inflation. Baaaaaaad for taxpayers in certain states. There's absolutely no reason, except Congress dragging its collective feet, for people earning less than $1 million a year (at very least) to pay the AMT. But I think the principles are sound. Indexing the AMT for inflation would fix all the problems.

Of course, will Congress fix it? No. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks the Republicans want the AMT's impact to keep growing, because it's flat. That way, they can have progressive taxation to hurt the poor and flat taxation to help the wealthy.

"Funny how one's academic views of tax policy tend to change when one's own wallet is being tapped."

Like I learned in college, "Where you sit is where you stand."

Although, speaking of that, what would or does your new friend Wm. Gates, Sr. say?

Musta been that Multnomah County tax that set you over the edge. Set me over, too ... a different one. LOL.

The AMT was originally conceived as a progressive tax, but times have changed and now middle and upper middle incomes are getting hit. It's no longer falls into the category of progressive taxation. So, no you're not sounding like a Republican, you're just seeing how the tax burden is beginning to shift towards people making under $500,000 a year and away from those making over 1 million a year.

A little reality check here. The AMT was enacted back in 1969 when so-called tax shelters allowed high-income taxpayers to shelter their income from taxes with paper losses from passive investments.

Since the Tax Reform Act of 1986, there have been limits on passive loss deductions and the reason for having AMT largely went away.

In the spirit of tax simplification (which motivated the '86 reform act), AMT should have been repealed. But liberals complained that would be a sop to the rich. So AMT was kept around and now is biting the middle class in their lower brackets, so to speak.

I am constantly amazed at how many Democrats are now claiming AMT is a plot by the Republicans. Can anyone tell me how many times the Clinton Administration proposed raising the threshold for AMT or, more appropriately, repealing it altogether?

If the IRS challenges your deductions, you're protected since if they say your contributions to the Goodwill weren't really worth as much as you say they were, your tax obligation will remain the same!

Actually, not true. Charitable contribution deductions do affect AMT liability. But if I had three more kids or paid another $5,000 in state and local taxes, it wouldn't affect my federal tax by even a nickel.

You're right, but it can be audit insurance for other deductions like rental income expenses.

As best as I can figure, I'm a Republican for seven and a half hours a year:

a half hour every time I get my paycheck (Jan-Nov),

an hour for my December paycheck (when I see how little of my holiday extra pay comes through),

and an hour and a half after I do my taxes.

Jack's got me on task and ready to do my taxes. I'll be a Republican later tonight, so if you see me, you might want to ask me some political questions just for the novelty of my answers.

Jack Roberts,
Not only did Clinton not fix the AMT, he vetoed at least one bill put forth to provide relief from the AMT (Taxpayer Refund and Relief Act of 1999 (106th Congress, H.R. 2488)).
On the other hand, he based his veto at least in part on the fact the Congress wanted to phase out the AMT and pay for it using projected budget surpluses. That looks kind of prescient now, don't you think, with our current President's budgets? So perhaps some context is in order.

I might also note that Clinton's proposed budget for fiscal year 2001 provided $33 billion for AMT tax relief.

To quote Clinton's veto message of the bill phasing out AMT in 1999: "I am returning herewith without my approval H.R. 2488, the 'Taxpayer Refund and Relief Act of 1999,' because it ignores the principles that have led us to the sound economy we enjoy today and emphasizes tax reduction for those who need it the least."

Yes, Jack, he's looking at you.

Jack, don't expect me to stick up for Clinton on money matters. He was a crook. But I will point out that there has been six years' worth of bracket creep since then, and nobody's done anything sensible. Reagan is rolling over in his grave.

Jeez, Reagan hasn't even been in his grave a year and you already have him turning over in it!

Actually, I agree with you. Both parties have completely abandoned the tax simplification ethic of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 and compete with each other to enact social policy and overt political agendas through the tax code.

If I were dead, I'd be turning over in my grave!


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