|These special excise taxes have the
further advantage of not requiring any substantial
expansion of administrative machinery. No general sales
tax is recommended, and indeed, I strongly urge that no
such tax be made a part of this revenue bill. The general
sales tax falls on scarce and plentiful commodities
alike. It strikes at necessaries and luxuries alike. As
compared with the taxes proposed in this program, it
bears disproportionately on the low income groups whose
incomes are almost wholly spent on consumer goods. It is,
therefore, regressive and encroaches harmfully upon the
standard of living. It increases prices and makes price
control more difficult. It stimulates demands for higher
wages and adds to the parity prices of agricultural
products. It is not, as many suppose, easily collected;
on the contrary, its collection would require much
additional administrative machinery at a time when
manpower is limited.
5. REMOVAL OF SPECIAL PRIVILEGES There are in our tax system certain provisions which grant to relatively few of our people special advantages and privileges at the expense of the great mass who must pay what is thereby lost. I am reluctant to recommend that the great mass of the taxpayers of the United States should pay billions of dollars of additional revenues until these defects have been removed from the tax laws. They are bad enough in time of peace -- they are intolerable in time of war.
(a) TAX EXEMPT SECURITIES. An important example of such a privilege is presented by tax exempt securities. Every element in our population should bear its fair share of the burdens which war imposes. Through tax exempt securities, however, persons with large taxpaying ability find themselves in a sheltered position. For the most part they did not buy these securities at prices reflecting to any significant extent the great favor of escape from wartime burdens, and surely the States did not offer the securities on any such basis. The holders of tax exempt securities are obtaining what are essentially windfall profits in a time of national sacrifice. For a long time Presidents, Secretaries of the Treasury, and Congressional Committees have recommended the elimination of the tax exemption of interest on future Government securities. Last year the Congress, at my recommendation, removed the exemption on interest from future issues of Federal securities. No action has been taken with respect to the interest on future or outstanding State and local securities. In times of peace, when the strain on other elements in the population was not so heavy, there was much to be said for the gradual elimination of tax exemption through taxing future issues only. The national emergency of war makes this gradual approach unacceptable. I therefore recommend the repeal of the present exemption applicable to outstanding issues of State and local securities. Unfortunately, tax exemption clauses appear in many of the outstanding issues of Federal securities and these promises must not be violated. In the ease of State and local securities, however, there has never been any contract or moral commitment between the Federal Government and the security holders or he State and local governmental authorities regarding Federal taxation. Since the Supreme Court decision in the case of Graves v. O'Keefe in 1939 fair- minded experts in constitutional law have had no doubt of the Federal power and moral right to tax the income from State and municipal securities. A tax system cannot be defended which in a time of grave national emergency calls upon the great mass of our taxpayers to shoulder the heavy burden of additional taxes and yet permits persons with large taxpaying ability to pay virtually nothing in taxes. The sacrifices necessary to win a war for the benefit of all of us should be shared by all of us -- including the holders of tax exempt securities. The President said in his Budget Message, "When so many Americans are contributing all their energies and even their lives to the Nation's great task, I an confident that all Americans will be proud to contribute their utmost in taxes." Taxing the interest of future and outstanding issues of State and municipal securities would yield $200,000,000 a year.
(b) PERCENTAGE DEPLETION. A second example of special privilege is the allowance for depletion. At the present time the owners of mines and oil wells are allowed to deduct so-called percentage depletion or cost depletion, whichever is higher. Percentage depletion consists of a certain percentage of gross income (27-1/2 percent in the case of persons having an economic interest in oil and gas properties), the deduction being limited to fifty percent of the net income from the property. Under this arrangement percentage depletion goes on even after one hundred percent of the cost is recovered and may substantially exceed depletion based on cost. In 1937 the President and the Treasury recommended the elimination of percentage depletion, but no action was then taken. The war has intensified the necessity for eliminating any such special favor to one group of taxpayers. The removal of this special privilege would yield $80,000,000 a year. One of the reasons asserted in behalf of percentage depletion for oil and gas properties is that it stimulates exploration for such properties. If this is a proper objective, it would be better achieved by a special depletion allowance to those who do explore without indiscriminate extension of the same favor to all owners. At the convenience of the Committee, we shall place before it a plan directed to this purpose. So far as minerals other than oil and gas are concerned, it is believed that an adequate stimulus for exploration would remain if the percentages allowable for depletion purposes were substantially reduced or percentage depletion were eliminated.
(c) SEPARATE RETURNS BY MARRIED PERSONS. A third example of special favoritism in the tax laws is the option allowed married couples to file separate income tax returns. This permission has little or no significance for most taxpayers since at the present time married couples with incomes of up to $3,500 (the amount is higher in the case of married couples with dependents pay the same total tax whether they file joint returns or separate returns. It may make a great deal of difference in tax, however, in the case of married couples with large incomes, especially if the income is more or less evenly divided between husband and wife. This difference in tax is unwarranted since in actual operation the family is the economic unit. Two families with the same total income will usually manage and dispose of that, income in a similar fashion, regardless of whether the income is received by only one spouse or is received by both spouses. The adoption of mandatory joint returns would remove this tax differential and would also eliminate two specific kinds of tax avoidance which are present under existing law. The first is the treatment of community income in the so-called community-property States. In the non-community-property States the income is taxable to the spouse who earns it. In the community-property States however, the husband who earns the income may for tax purposes attribute half the earnings to his wife, although he retains the management and control of all the earnings. The result is that married couples with high incomes in community-property States receive a very substantial tax advantage over those living in other States. This advantage would be removed if joint returns were made mandatory. A second source of tax avoidance which would be eliminated by mandatory joint returns is the possibility of manipulating incomes between husband and wife. For examples if the husband receives a large amount of' income from securities, he may reduce the family income tax substantially (and also reduce the amount of estate tax in case he predeceases his wife) by giving a portion of his fortune to his wife. This, and other methods of reducing taxes by married couples, would be eliminated through provision for mandatory joint returns. Accordingly, it is suggested that the filing of joint tax returns by married couples be made mandatory, with a special allowance for the earned income of the wife or the husband. At the present rates of individual income tax, it is estimated that the revenue from requiring the filing of joint income tax returns would be approximately $300,000,000.
(d) OTHER SPECIAL PRIVILEGES. There are other examples of special privilege in our tax laws which need to be removed. They are to be found in the provisions of our present laws affecting capital gains, insurance company taxes, and pension trusts, and will be discussed in detail later in these hearings. The removal of these additional methods of avoidance would yield about $100,000,000 a year in additional revenue.
(e) HARDSHIPS ON TAXPAYERS. The inequities of our tax laws work in two directions. As I have said, some of them extend undue privileges to a favored few. Still others result in unfair burdens upon certain taxpayers. Let me give you a few examples of such inequities which need correction. If you rent your house to tenants but are not in the real estate business, you are taxed on the rent you received but you may be denied the right to deduct your expenses in producing that income. If, as an individual, you expand your plant to produce war materials, you are denied the benefits of the amortization provision which applies to corporations. If you collect a debt which you previously charged off as worthless, the amount collected becomes part of your taxable income even though you received no tax relief when you charged it off. With rates at wartime levels it becomes urgent to correct all such defects. I, therefore, propose that we make every effort in this session of Congress to eliminate all hardships of this character so that our tax laws will cast their burden equitably upon all taxpayers.
CONCLUSION The recommendations I have outlined to the Committee this morning would, if added together, produce over $8,000,000,000 in additional revenue. Since the effects of any series of tax proposals are interrelated to some extent, we should deduct about $1,000,000,000 from this total. That would give us the $7,000,000,000 in new revenue which, as I said at the outset of my statement, should be regarded as the very least that we can call for at this time. We are at war. An adequate tax program is vital to the successful prosecution of the war. The new taxes will be severe, and their impact will be felt in every American home. War is never cheap; but, as I have said before, it is a million times cheaper to win than to lose.