- President Obama doesn’t enjoy paying his big tax bills and he always pays "the max" rate, he says.
- But he also learned to appreciate what his taxes do, thanks to a career in politics and eight years as President No. 44.
- Lately he’s been talking to companies trying to get them to understand this point of view.
- As companies have become more global they aren’t as dedicated to their nearby communities, he fears.
- He calls out teacher pay in San Francisco as the classic example.
Tax season is upon us with some people getting a break from the Republicans’ new tax reforms, others paying more and corporations paying at a much lower base rate.
Former President Barack Obama says he knows how painful a big tax bill can be. But he’s also learned to have appreciation for what his taxes do thanks to a career in politics and eight years as President No. 44. Lately he’s been talking to companies trying to get them to understand this point of view on taxes. So he told a crowd of 11,000 people speaking at the Qualtrics tech conference in Salt Lake City, Utah on Wednesday.
"I always used to laugh when people would say about my tax policies, oh, he just wants to tax you to death. First of all, I’m the guy who pays the max tax," Obama told the crowd.
That’s because, since the early 1970’s, presidents and presidential hopefuls have routinely released their tax returns for public scrutiny. (Donald Trump is an exception. He has not shared his tax returns.)
"Everybody’s looking at my taxes so I could never take a deduction. I couldn’t exercise any loopholes. Whatever the maximum rate is, I’m paying," he said.
QualtricsNow that he’s a private citizen again, he doesn’t share his tax returns. But in 2015, the last year he released them, he paid over $81,000 in taxes on nearly 448,000 in income.
"I don’t enjoy writing big checks to the Treasury Department any more than you do. But I have been so blessed by this country," he said.
"For me to be able to pay my fair share of sustaining this amazing nation so kids coming up behind me are going to have the same opportunities that I do, is something that I insist upon," he said.
He said his attitude toward paying taxes can be summed up from a quote by Olive Wendell Holmes, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the early 1900’s, who said, "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society."
While everyone wants great government services, no one wants to pay for it, he lamented and this attitude has real-world impacts.
"Teachers are so grossly underpaid in this country," he said. "If you live in San Francisco on a teacher’s salary, you literally have no place to live. And part of that is we don’t want to pay enough taxes to make sure those teachers can support their families."
He’d particularly like to see businesses change their point of view. Thanks to the wide variety of tax breaks in the tax code, some of the richest corporations in the land pay the lowest effective tax rates. Amazon, for instance, is said to have paid little to no federal taxes for years.
Companies used to feel that being good to their communities was good for their business because everyone lived in the areas where they worked. But companies are global today and are under pressure from shareholders to exploit every loophole and to offshore their cash, Obama said.
"This is something we have to have a public conversation on," he said because everyone depends on taxes to pay for schools, mend our interstate roads and so on. And "I love to pay high taxes," said no one, ever, not even Obama when he pays his.
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