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November a fine time for tax day?

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Would you consider your vote differently if this Tuesday were Election Day? Would other Americans?

Before you answer, remember that Tuesday also is tax day, the final day on which you legally can file state and federal returns without an extension.

Some people have suggested moving tax day to November, to more closely coincide with elections. The feeling is that income taxes are kind of like a bad meal. You feel indigestion for a while and have a sour taste in your mouth, but if you don't actually meet the chef for another seven months, you aren't likely to hold it against him. You might even venture back into the same restaurant again.

Maybe a November tax day even would force politicians to do something about a federal tax code that now fills about 60,000 pages. To visualize that, take your favorite reading assignment from your school days — something like "Moby Dick" — and stack 60 copies on top of each other. Only instead of winding your way through whale hunts, you'd be trying to untangle exemptions, breaks and deductions — a cluster dense and mind-numbing enough to make Ahab turn the harpoon on himself.

I'm not sure anything would force politicians to enact real reform, actually. Not without real public rage. The federal government was clever in allowing people to deduct income taxes from their paychecks. That way, a lot of people look forward to this time of year because they expect sizable refunds, never stopping to think that they really have been overpaying and allowing Washington to keep the difference for a while, interest-free.

The result is a lot of people don't think too deeply about taxes. Nearly two-thirds of them hire someone to do their returns, anyway.

It is sobering, however, to reflect on a question asked in a poll by the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan group whose stated goal is to educate Americans on tax and fiscal policies. That question is, what is that maximum percentage of one's income you believe should go to taxes?

According to written remarks on the foundation's Web site by President Scott Hodge, Americans say about 15 percent would be enough. The reality, however, is that almost 33 percent of the nation's combined personal income goes to local, state and federal taxes.

The Tax Foundation likes to present this information a little differently. Every year, it figures out how long that average American has to work just to pay off this tax bill. This year, if the average person sent every penny he or she earned directly to Washington, it would take until April 30 to experience "tax freedom day." That's two days longer than it took last year. And, according to Hodge, it's about 17 days longer than it would take the average American to pay all of his or her yearly housing costs, and 11 days more than it takes to pay for a year's worth of food.

There is some good news in all of this, at least for most of you. The average Utahn this year would have to work only until April 22 to pay his or her total tax bill. Utahns have the 36th highest tax burden in the nation, according to the foundation, which really isn't so bad, relatively speaking. If you lived in Connecticut, you'd be slaving until May 20 to support government.

Of course, taxes pay for many legitimate and important things — things that, if removed, would send a lot of people to the streets in protest. But perhaps not everything governments fund is truly necessary (soccer stadiums, anyone?).

Hodge quotes former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes as saying, "Taxes are the price we pay for civilized society." Then he notes that Holmes said this in 1904, when it took the average American only until Jan. 21 to pay his or her tax bills.

Kind of makes you want to drop your returns in the mailbox and look for the nearest voting machine.

Jay Evensen is editor of the Deseret Morning News editorial page. E-mail: even@desnews.com