Rep. Johnson on Listening to FairTaxers

May 18, 2012

At Congressman Woodall's recent Tax Day press conference, Congressman Hank Johnson stopped by and spoke about why, although he was not endorsing the FairTax, he was willing to have a dialogue about and listen to its' merits.

We asked Congressman Johnson to share with you his thoughts on tax reform, the FairTax and why he is willing to listen. This op-ed appeared in the May 18, 2012 edition of the national Fair Tax newsletter.

By Rep. Hank Johnson (D) GA-04

On April 15, I came upon a group of sign-waving FairTax advocates as I was walking out of the Capitol after delivering some comments on the House floor.

They were assembled at the spot where press conferences always take place. Upon my approach, I saw Congressman Rob Woodall of Georgia, for whom I have great respect. I decided to join them, to demonstrate my solidarity with those calling for comprehensive tax reform.  

I am not an expert on tax law. However, I know that the tax code is unfair, deceptive, and deliberately complex. Of course, there are some necessary incentives imbedded in the tax code, which benefit overall public policy. Deductions for charitable contributions and mortgage interest come to mind. I also know that the tax code is riddled with arcane language that conceals innumerable exemptions and exceptions that benefit special interests, with little rational justification for their continued existence -- subsidies for Big Oil and special treatment for unearned income.

The current tax system operates to exempt the wealthy, individually and through various business entities, from having to pay a fair share of the income tax burden, and much too often, to avoid paying any income taxes whatsoever. This is wrong, it is immoral, and as a member of Congress it is my responsibility to be on the side of what is right, proper and just.

Otherwise, I am misrepresenting the people who have elected me to represent them. The overwhelming majority of the people who elected me are middle class, working Americans. They are being mistreated when the wealthy get tax breaks and they are forced to pay more than their fair share of the tax burden. I have held several district meetings with proponents of the FairTax, and I believe they feel the same way that I do.

My constituents, some of whom support the FairTax, deserve to be heard, and it is my responsibility to be a voice for them in Congress. However, I also know that we may disagree as to the role and reach of government in our lives. Knowing that there should be no disagreement that all income levels should pay their fair share of the tax burden, it was quite natural that I take that opportunity to demonstrate with those calling for a fundamental change in America’s tax policy.

I am open to the idea of a consumption tax system or a value-added tax system to replace the current income tax system. I support a careful look at them all, and I believe that the FairTax is a serious plan that deserves careful consideration.  In the final analysis, I will support tax reform that takes a holistic view of our economy and ensures that working Americans pay only their fair share. Our tax code must encourage honest citizens to innovate and create wealth while ensuring that government has the resources to create a level playing field.

Unfortunately, the special interests who have written the current tax code to their own benefit wield enormous influence over the Republican and, to a lesser extent, the Democratic parties. Campaign contributions and corporate spending to influence elections play an outsize role in shaping public policy in America. Without fundamental campaign finance reform, entrenched special interests will continue to spend enormous sums of money to protect the current tax policies. This is why, despite the fact that the typical FairTax supporter votes Republican or Libertarian, the FairTax been has never been the subject of serious discussion in Congress even though Republicans have controlled the House for 16 of the last 20 years.

I will continue to dialogue with supporters of the FairTax and others about how to fix our broken tax code.  I look forward to continuing to work with Rep. Woodall to overhaul our tax system.

Rep. Johnson practiced civil and criminal law in DeKalb County, Ga., for 27 years. Rep. Johnson is a former county commissioner and magistrate judge. He is married to Attorney Mereda Davis Johnson and has two children. Georgia’s 4th Congressional District includes portions of DeKalb, Rockdale and Gwinnett counties in the eastern suburbs of Atlanta.