WASHINGTON — About 36 percent of Oklahoma households that filed 2010 federal tax returns owed no income taxes, ranking the state 17th in the nation in terms of “non-payers,” according to the IRS and the Washington-based Tax Foundation.
The large majority of those who owed no income taxes had adjusted gross incomes of less than $25,000, though even some Oklahomans with incomes greater than $1 million also paid no income tax, IRS figures show.
The number of people who pay no federal income tax in the United States has been the subject of some debate in Washington, particularly among Republicans who say an overhaul of the tax code should broaden the base of taxpayers.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's comments in a video leaked this week quickly amplified the issue beyond Washington, raising questions about why many people don't pay income taxes.
In comments to donors at a private fundraiser in Florida in May, Romney said 47 percent of the people in the United States pay no income taxes and that President Barack Obama starts out with 47 percent of the people who will vote for him “no matter what.”
“All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it,” Romney said in the video.
According to a study last year by the Washington-based Tax Policy Center, an estimated 46 percent of U.S. households had no income tax obligation in 2011, primarily because they don't have enough taxable income after the standard exemptions and deductions are applied.
However, even those wage earners who don't pay federal income tax pay Medicare and Social Security taxes.
In Oklahoma, 1,590,384 households filed federal income tax returns for the 2010 tax year; of those, 570,209 owed no taxes for that year. According to IRS figures, nearly 455,000 of those households had adjusted gross incomes of less than $25,000 and nearly 556,000 had incomes below $50,000.
Eleven of the 2,405 Oklahoma households with income above $1 million paid no federal income tax for the 2010 tax year.
Income tax, voting
For tax year 2008, more than 554,000 Oklahomans who filed federal income tax returns owed no income taxes. In that year, then-Sen. Barack Obama got fewer than 503,000 votes in Oklahoma.
There is no way to document how many of those who paid no income tax actually voted for Obama.
But Oklahoma's distinction as the reddest state in the nation calls into question the political calculus used by Romney in linking Obama's base to those who don't pay federal income taxes.
Wallace Collins, chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, said Tuesday that, when criticizing those who didn't pay income taxes, Romney was essentially attacking young workers, military service people, veterans and the elderly.
Matt Pinnell, chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, said, “Let me get this straight: When Obama says that Americans aren't paying their fair share, it's cool. But when Romney says it, it's not cool?
“Romney was simply stating the obvious — that as president he wants to cut taxes and that those in this country that pay little to no taxes wouldn't see that as a reason to vote for him. I believe that as bad as the economy is, many of these people will in fact decide we need a change in the White House.
“Regardless, this is a great opportunity to finally have a debate over what kind of America voters want — an entitlement ‘cradle-to-grave' society, or an opportunity society.”