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Column

Wimbiscus: The true cost of the 'T' word

Bill Wimbiscus
Bill Wimbiscus

This year’s long national nightmare is almost over.

And which nightmare is that, you ask?

You know, the one that started in late January.

The one every American politician either reviles or embraces, depending on their political affiliation.

The one that every American voter, truth be told, is sick and tired of.

Still not sure? Here’s one last hint: it’s the one that begins with the letter “T” …

… Ummm.

OK, wait.

Clearly there’s been some misunderstanding here.

The nightmare I’m referring to is taxes. As in the 2017 tax season, which started with the W-2 deadline on Jan. 31 and ends with the federal income tax deadline on April 18.

Well, that’s not really true.

Tuesday, April 18, is merely the day you’re required to file your taxes by. The traditional deadline was yesterday – April 15 – but rescheduled because it was a Saturday. And Monday, April 17, is out of the question because, as everyone knows, that’s a holiday (something called D.C. Emancipation Day, which basically emancipates District of Columbia government employees of having to work that day).

However, the day by which you’ll earn enough money to pay all your taxes – federal, state and local – comes somewhat later.

For the nation as a whole, that date is known as Tax Freedom Day. The date, coined by a group called The Tax Foundation, represents the day Americans will have to work until they pay all of their 1. Federal, state and local income taxes; 2. payroll taxes; 3. sales and excise taxes; 4. corporate income taxes and property taxes; 5. estate and inheritance taxes, customs duties; and 6. “other” taxes (which, if you live in Chicago, includes fees like the penny-an-ounce soda tax and 7-cent grocery bag tax).

In 2016, Tax Freedom Day was April 24, meaning it took 114 days (including last year’s Leap Day) to pay off the nation’s overall tax debt of $4.9 trillion.

Well, that’s not really true.

Because if you live in a financially challenged state like Illinois – one so politically inept it can’t pass a budget let alone balance one – Tax Freedom Day came a bit later: April 29.

Well, that’s not really true.

Because once you factor in all of the federal borrowing required to finance our $19.8 trillion federal debt, Tax Freedom Day came even later: May 10.

Meaning that every penny you earned for the first 129 days of 2016 was not your own – it belonged to the government. Collectively, Americans spent more on taxes last year than they did on food, clothing and housing … combined.

Yet while that might seem excessive, it’s nothing compared to the number of tax days endured by our fellow democracies over in the European Union.

Taxpayers in the United Kingdom, which Brexited from the EU last year, were on the hook until June 3. For Greece, the most debt-ridden country in Europe, it only took until June 19, probably due to EU bailouts. In France – where work weeks last for 35 hours while vacations last for five weeks – the date was July 29.

Still, that’s nothing compared to Belgium, where only about half the population legally works. In 2015, your typical working Belgian had to labor until Aug. 6 to cover their tax debt.

So when is this year’s Tax Freedom Day? Wish I could tell you. But as of last Thursday, the people over at The Tax Foundation hadn’t figured it out yet. Still trying to calculate some last minute numbers, I was told.

Which, to my way of thinking, probably doesn’t bode well for the American working stiff in general, or for the Illinois working stiff in particular.

But that’s the cost of living in a democracy. Freedom isn’t free, but then again, neither is government. At least until sometime around May 10.

• Bill Wimbiscus, former reporter and editor for The Herald-News, has lived in Joliet for 25 years. He can be reached at news@theherald-news.com.

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