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Recent tax increase a little icing on 16th Amendment birthday cake

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: February 7, 2013

TAX Day is April 15, but another momentous Tax Day has already come and gone.

Sunday was the 100th birthday of the federal income tax system. Neither Washington, which takes so much money from Americans, nor the taxpayers themselves, are likely aware that on Feb. 3, 1913, the 16th Amendment was ratified, giving Congress the power to tax personal incomes.

Over the next century, the income tax went through cycles of growth and shrinkage. The personal income tax became part of the public financing system at state and local levels as well. Fortunately, Oklahomans aren't faced with paying a tax on incomes to City Hall. But the income tax they pay to the federal and state governments remains the subject of endless discussions over fairness.

President Barack Obama succeeded in raising taxes on “the wealthy” as part of the fiscal cliff settlement. On the very day the 16th Amendment's ratification turned 100, Obama blew out the candles and said that his wish is for “the wealthy” to pay even more income taxes. No surprise there.

In the states, though, many leaders are talking about lowering the income tax, not raising it. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin is one of them. Fallin wants to cut the top personal income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent. She'd like to cut it even more, but political reality has forced her to keep a proposed cut to a minimum.

More than a hundred years ago, the members of Congress who sent the 16th Amendment to the states figured it wouldn't be ratified because those most affected by a personal income tax — “the wealthy” — would successfully oppose the move. They were wrong.

Still, it took 3½ years to get ratification by the requisite 36 states. Oklahoma, known today for its tax-cutting impetus, was the sixth state to ratify. Most of the early ratifiers were states that today are led by Republicans thought to be averse to higher taxes. Perhaps lawmakers assumed an income tax would only ever affect “the wealthy.” If so, they were wrong.

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by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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