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Study Calculates Economic Cost of Higher Tax Rates, Health Care Surtax

Total Burden of Higher Top Income Tax Rates, Health Care Surtax is Nearly Twice the Additional Revenue Raised

Washington, DC, August 14, 2009 - The actual economic costs of the proposed health care surtax and the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts will be twice the amount of revenue the government intends to collect. According to a new analysis from the Tax Foundation, the higher tax rates are estimated to raise $88 billion in 2011, but the economy will incur an additional burden of $76 billion-or "deadweight loss"-as a result, which raises the total cost of the tax increases to $164 billion, roughly double what lawmakers intend to raise.

Tax Foundation Special Report No. 170, "The Excess Burden of Taxes and the Economic Cost of High Tax Rates," attempts to put a price tag on the cost of pending rollbacks of the Bush tax cuts (which would raise the top tax rate to 39.6%) as well as the proposed health care surtax (ranging from 1% to 5.4%). This loss in economic efficiency is also known as the "excess burden" or "deadweight loss" of taxes-the income that would need to be given to people to compensate them for the resources that are lost due to the distorting effect of taxes. The Special Report is available online at http://www.taxfoundation.org/news/show/25003.html.

"The notion that the total burden is nearly twice the revenue collected should give lawmakers some pause when considering these higher tax rates," said Tax Foundation Senior Fellow Robert Carroll, Ph.D., who authored the paper.

"Lawmakers need to understand that the current income tax system already costs the economy between $110 billion and $150 billion above and beyond the $1 trillion the government actually collects in taxes," Carroll said. "This means the actual economic cost of our income tax system is at least $1.10 for every dollar the government collects. The proposed higher tax rates could boost those deadweight costs to more than $1.20 for every dollar of tax revenues collects."

"The burden is particularly high for the higher income tax rates being considered by the Congress," says Carroll. "With every dollar in additional revenue, these tax increases impose an extra burden of 86 cents." For example, in 2011 a couple earning $500,000 will pay $112,437 in income taxes. But the excess burden to them of that tax payment is $16,664, about 15% of their tax burden. The increase in the top two tax rates plus the health care surtax would boost their income tax payment an additional $7,719 to $120,156. However, that tax hike would also increase their excess burden by $8,748, larger than the tax increase itself.

"When totaled over all taxpayers, this means," says Carroll, "that the total economic cost of the higher tax rates will be close to twice the amount lawmakers hope to collect."

"Lawmakers should be wary of policies that are purported to make higher-income taxpayers 'pay their fair share' but that impose very substantial burdens on all taxpayers-nearly twice the revenue that is raised-and waste substantial economic resources," Carroll concluded.

The Tax Foundation is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that has monitored fiscal policy at the federal, state and local levels since 1937. 

Special Report No. 170 is available online at http://www.taxfoundation.org/news/show/25003.html. A related study, Tax Foundation Fiscal Fact No. 186, "Towards Understanding the Full Burden of High Tax Rates," is available online at http://www.taxfoundation.org/publications/show/25006.html. To schedule an interview, please contact Natasha Altamirano, the Tax Foundation's Manager of Media Relations, at (202) 464-5102 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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