Rejoice, tax accountants, it's April 6th, 2009, which means this is your second-to-last Monday before the finish line of April 15th! You're almost there!
We've got a little trick up our sleeve to reward you for all your hard work and get you on your way to CPA licensure, so be sure to stay tuned by subscribing to our blog as we'll be announcing this treat on the 15th!
Until then, let's take a quick look at the history of taxes as we know them in America.
Under the Constitution, Congress could impose direct taxes only if they were levied in proportion to each State's population. Thus, when a flat rate Federal income tax was enacted in 1894, it was quickly challenged and in 1895 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional because it was a direct tax not apportioned according to the population of each state.
Lacking the revenue from an income tax and with all other forms of internal taxes facing stiff resistance, from 1896 until 1910 the Federal government relied heavily on high tariffs for its revenues. The War Revenue Act of 1899 sought to raise funds for the Spanish-American War through the sale of bonds, taxes on recreational facilities used by workers, and doubled taxes on beer and tobacco. A tax was even imposed on chewing gum. The Act expired in 1902, so that Federal receipts fell from 1.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product to 1.3 percent.
While the War Revenue Act returned to traditional revenue sources following the Supreme Court's 1895 ruling on the income tax, debate on alternative revenue sources remained lively. The nation was becoming increasingly aware that high tariffs and excise taxes were not sound economic policy and often fell disproportionately on the less affluent. Proposals to reinstate the income tax were introduced by Congressmen from agricultural areas whose constituents feared a Federal tax on property, especially on land, as a replacement for the excises.
Eventually, the income tax debate pitted southern and western Members of Congress representing more agricultural and rural areas against the industrial northeast. The debate resulted in an agreement calling for a tax, called an excise tax, to be imposed on business income, and a Constitutional amendment to allow the Federal government to impose tax on individuals' lawful incomes without regard to the population of each State.
By 1913, 36 States had ratified the 16th Amendment to the Constitution. In October, Congress passed a new income tax law with rates beginning at 1 percent and rising to 7 percent for taxpayers with income in excess of $500,000. Less than 1 percent of the population paid income tax at the time. Form 1040 was introduced as the standard tax reporting form and, though changed in many ways over the years, remains in use today.
One of the problems with the new income tax law was how to define "lawful" income. Congress addressed this problem by amending the law in 1916 by deleting the word "lawful" from the definition of income. As a result, all income became subject to tax, even if it was earned by illegal means. Several years later, the Supreme Court declared the Fifth Amendment could not be used by bootleggers and others who earned income through illegal activities to avoid paying taxes. Consequently, many who broke various laws associated with illegal activities and were able to escape justice for these crimes were incarcerated on tax evasion charges.
Prior to the enactment of the income tax, most citizens were able to pursue their private economic affairs without the direct knowledge of the government. Individuals earned their wages, businesses earned their profits, and wealth was accumulated and dispensed with little or no interaction with government entities. The income tax fundamentally changed this relationship, giving the government the right and the need to know about all manner of an individual or business' economic life. Congress recognized the inherent invasiveness of the income tax into the taxpayer's personal affairs and so in 1916 it provided citizens with some degree of protection by requiring that information from tax returns be kept confidential.
And so income tax as we know it was born. Did they have busy season in 1916? Probably not.
So while you're counting down the days until April 15th, why not share some tax season stories with us? What're you doing to celebrate putting the wraps on Tax Season 2009?
We know what we'll be doing - hugging all the tax accountants we can find!