You Decide

Produced by KQED

a confusion of tax forms and chartsShould the federal income tax system be reformed?

Are you sure?

Since World War II, individual income tax has constituted more than 70 percent of all federal tax revenue. For most Americans, dread of Form 1040 and April 15 are as American as apple pie. But is the federal income tax the best way to generate revenue for the government?

On the one hand, some argue, income taxes and all of the complications that accompany them are a necessary evil: A complex federal government demands a complex tax code, and only a complex tax code can accommodate changes in revenue needs, generate the billions of dollars needed to sustain the government of a nation with more than 300 million people and decrease the deficit. Alter the tax code, some argue, and say "bye-bye" to things that we Americans take for granted: interstates, meat inspection and flak jackets in Fallujah.

But on the other hand, there's the alarming argument that given the demands of a $500 billion war in Iraq and a $9.2 trillion deficit, something's got to give, and that something will likely be taxes as we know them. Others maintain that because the federal tax code is incredibly unwieldy — impenetrable to most Americans and even lawmakers — the current income tax system (and possibly the IRS) should be abolished in favor of a nationwide federal sales tax or a flat tax system that would not just simplify our lives, it would boost the economy. Finally, it's hard to dismiss arguments that the current income tax regime punishes savers and encourages greed and corruption in the government and private sector.

Think you know where you stand on this issue? During the course of this activity, we will ask you four times: Should the federal income tax system be reformed? Based on your responses, we will argue the opposite points of view. Only your final vote will count toward the results of the You Decide poll.

Should the federal income tax system be reformed?

Nothing about the issues facing the candidates and American voters in 2008 is black and white. With these You Decide activities, you can explore both sides of an issue, put your own critical thinking to work, and discuss the pros and cons with others. In the end, perhaps you will ask different — and better — questions than those presented here.


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