Ghosts of Tax Day Past
I was going through a long neglected desk drawer the other day when I stumbled across these:
I'm not sure how I got them. There's a set of the 1967 ones, too. Maybe they were left in the desk by a previous owner, or maybe someone else passed them along to me knowing my professional involvement with the tax system. Anyway, they weren't mine originally. In tax season for 1966 (spring of '67), I was a freshman in high school in New Jersey, hadn't had any reportable income yet, and had no clue that I would ever set foot in Oregon.
Holding these pieces of history in one's hands and leafing through them is kind of interesting. The obvious thing that jumps out at you is how much simpler the system was back then. The federal booklet (8¼ by 11¼ inches with a couple of staples in it) is only 20 pages long; the state instructions, which are three long pieces of paper folded together (not even bound), work out to eight pages of 8½ by 11. Today the comparable federal document is 105 pages long; the Oregon instructions have now swelled to 40 pages.
It's also interesting to note from whom the forms came:
Sheldon Cohen, now retired from a big-bucks Washington, D.C. law firm, is still around; these days he drops in from time to time on a tax law professor e-mail list serv to which I subscribe. And of course, Oregon's taxing bureau has long since been rechristened the Department of Revenue.
Back in 1966, there was little doubt who wore the pants in the family:
If the IRS owed you money, you mailed your return to Ogden, Utah; but if you owed the IRS money, you mailed it to a local office here in Portland:
People got by on a lot less in those days. Back then, the expanded federal tax rate tables went up to only $5,000 of taxable income:
But if you made a lot of dough (more than $100,000 as a single person, $200,000 as a couple) -- bam! The top federal income tax rate was 70%:
I remember when Mickey Mantle made $100,000 -- it seemed like a fortune. But Uncle Sam tapped the Mick hard, no doubt.
Of course, in the JFK years, the top federal rate had been in excess of 90%, but even 70% is pretty stunning. Today the Republicans have cut the top rate to half that much. (Reagan, who as an actor paid in the top brackets of the '50s and '60s, and never got over his bitterness about it, had cut it to 50% in 1981.)
In contrast, the 1966 Oregon rates don't look too much different from what they were in 2008. In the old days, there was a 9.5% rate, which kicked at $8,000 for a single person, and $16,000 for a husband and wife:
Here's what they look like today, 44 years later:
Back in '66, if you had questions about your state taxes, there were quite a few local numbers for you to call. The numbers were given in seven digits, without the old letter prefixes, which was probably still a pretty new feeling back then:
The real old timers out there could no doubt tell you the names that used to stand in place of the first two digits of some of those seven-digit phone numbers.
Ah, well. Tempus fugit, carpe diem, and all that. It's been fun chatting with the Ghosts of Tax Day Past, but our visit with the Ghosts of Tax Day Present is upon us now, and I hate like the Dickens to think about the upcoming encounter with the Ghosts of Tax Day Yet to Come. With the way the government is borrowing money these days, that one, my friends, is going to be mighty scary.