WASHINGTON – With the country at war and facing budget deficits, six in 10 Americans say this is not the time for more tax cuts, an Associated Press poll finds. Still, half say their taxes are too high.
The poll, taken in the days before Tuesday's tax-filing deadline, found that 61 percent say it would be better to hold off on additional tax cuts now to avoid making budget deficits worse and ensure there is adequate money to pay for the war.
Half that many, 31 percent, said they think it is more important to pass more tax cuts to give people more money to spend and to stimulate the economy, said the poll conducted for the AP by ICR/International Communications Research of Media, Pa.
A majority of those who think taxes are too high and a majority of Republicans, 56 percent, said they preferred holding off on additional tax cuts right now. Three of four Democrats said it would be better to wait.
"I think they need to figure out how to pay for the war," said Joseph Ames, a 28-year-old cook from Boise, Idaho, and a political independent. "They need to broaden their search to see where and who is actually affected by these tax cuts. I hear a lot of talk about the little man getting stomped on."
Congress is debating the appropriate size of a tax cut, bruiting about figures between $350 billion and $550 billion. Supporters of a larger tax cut say it would be a boon to the economy; opponents contend it would worsen federal deficits expected to approach $400 billion this year.
The economy's problems have convinced some that more tax cuts are needed.
Kathleen Blank, a 79-year-old conservative Republican from Palmdale, Calif., said she's convinced that more tax cuts will stimulate the economy. "People get scared and quit buying when things are too tight," she said. "If you can afford to spend money, then you spend it."
President Bush signed a $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax cut in 2001 with broad income tax reductions for millions of Americans.
The poll of 1,017 adults was taken April 2-6 and has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The results suggested the public has an outsized concern about the possibility their own tax returns will be audited by the Internal Revenue Service.
One in five said they thought the chance of having their taxes audited was at least "somewhat likely," though few put the chance of an audit at "very likely."
The likelihood of anyone getting audited by the IRS last year was very low - with only one of 174 tax returns audited in fiscal 2002. In fiscal 1996, one in 60 - or 1.67 percent - of tax returns was audited.
Those who made more than $100,000 annually were slightly more likely to be audited than those who made less than $100,000.
About three-fourths of those polled said they do not think an audit of their taxes is likely.
"I don't worry about it because I'm pretty honest," said Ilene Cloutier, a 40-year-old occupational therapist from Randolph, Mass. She said she does not think those who cheat on income taxes in a minor way should be punished, or "they should get a warning and maybe a fine."
People were about evenly divided on whether people caught cheating on their taxes in a minor way should be punished. Those who felt they should be punished were most inclined to say the taxpayer caught cheating in a minor way should pay a fine.
Most minor problems with a tax return that arise from an audit result in the collection of tax payments plus interest, and failure to pay can result in further financial penalties, said Bruce Friedland, an IRS spokesman.
The chance of an audit is something Dawn Penn, a clerk from Tucson, Ariz., said she does not worry about because she's "single with no dependents."
But the 52-year-old Democrat would like to see more tax cuts simply because she needs more money.
"There are so many people that are working poor," Penn said. "I make too much money to qualify for subsidy or benefits or help, but I can barely make ends meet."