Kiss Off

Published: July 23, 2014

By Jim Lichtman
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Kiss rocker Gene Simmons may be master of his hard-rock domain, but when it comes to off-the-cuff remarks about the U.S. tax system, he’s, well… you decide.

In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune (July 4), Simmons, boasting of his wealth, said, ” ‘I have been part of the 1 percent for the past 30 years.’…

“What’s it like being part of the 1 percent?” the Union asked.

” ‘It’s fantastic!’ he replied. ‘The 1 percent pays 80 percent of all taxes. Fifty percent of the population of the U.S. pays no taxes. The 1 percent provides all the jobs for everybody else. If the 1 percent didn’t exist, there would be chaos and the American economy would drop dead. Try being nice to rich people. I don’t remember the last poor person who gave me a job.’ ”

According to the Union, “In 2011, Simmons told CNN the Kiss brand was worth between $1 billion and $5 billion.

“Other rock stars might object to being called shameless, but Simmons embraces that description.

” ‘You know how I spell shameless? P-r-o-u-d,’ he said.

Along with his inability to spell, Simmons doesn’t know the basic facts when it comes to the U.S. tax system. Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, said, “Simmons is not a politician, but here he echoes claims that are often made by politicians about who pays taxes in the United States.”

The Fact Checker goes on to clarify by offering some historical context.

“Income taxes” are just one type of tax people pay, and for most working Americans — about three-quarters — payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare far exceed what they pay in income taxes.

“(For people confused about these terms, income taxes are based on your income, minus certain deductions. Payroll taxes represent your contribution to old-age programs such as Social Security and Medicare; in the case of Social Security, taxes are capped once your income hits $117,000. Your employer also pays an equal amount of payroll taxes, which in effect reduces your wages.)

“In other words, substitute the phrase ‘all taxes’ for ‘income taxes,’ and the picture changes dramatically. When all federal taxes are included, the percentage of people who pay no taxes drops to 14 percent, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute.

“Two-thirds of those people are elderly, and most of the rest have annual incomes below $20,000. That means that only about 1 percent of the people who pay neither income nor payroll taxes are not elderly and have incomes above $20,000. Presumably, however, they pay other taxes, such as sales taxes.

“Simmons, a staunch Republican, might be surprised to learn that when some people do not pay income taxes, it is often because of policies advocated by Republicans, such as child tax credits and tax benefits for the working poor. President Richard M. Nixon offered an early version of the earned income tax credit, and it was enacted under Gerald R. Ford and expanded under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. In the 1990s, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) pushed for the child tax credit — signed into law by Democrat Bill Clinton in 1997 and expanded by George W. Bush in 2004.

“About 44 percent of those who do not pay income taxes are in that category because they get tax benefits aimed at the elderly, while 30 percent benefit from tax credits for children or for the working poor, according to a paper published by the Tax Policy Center.

“Finally, the ’47 percent’ figure [quotes by Mitt Romney in his presidential campaign] for income taxes is increasingly outdated, as it was an anomaly created by the recession. It actually reached 50 percent in 2009, but historically, it has been around 40 percent. Already, as of 2013, it had dropped to 43 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center, and the center anticipates the percentage will drop to 34 percent by 2022.

“And what about Simmons’s claim that ‘the 1 percent pays 80 percent of all taxes?’

“That’s even more off-base,” Kessler points out.

“The top 1 percent actually pays about 26 percent of all federal taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center. (A report from the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy pegs the figure at nearly 24 percent if state and local taxes are included.) Even if you count only income taxes, it works out to 34 percent. Note that the top 1 percent pays just 4 percent of payroll taxes, as the burden of those taxes falls more heavily on the lower and middle classes.”

For his lack of knowledge, Kessler gives the Simmons statement his worst rating: 4 Pinocchios.

“Simmons may enjoy the 1 percent lifestyle,” Kessler adds, “but he needs to get his facts straight. The top 1 percent certainly pays a large share of taxes (and has a large share of income) but his claims are wildly off-base, especially when talking about ‘all taxes.’ ”

As Albert Brooks’s character Al Percolo cautioned baseball phenom Steve Nebraska in the baseball comedy The Scout, “Never tell people how much money you make. It never works out well.”


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