MARTY RUSSELL: Why do taxes have to be so taxing?

By Marty Russell

Most of us journalists got into this business for two reasons: No heavy lifting or math required. We were half right. There’s no escaping math, even in journalism. We still have be able to read budgets, crunch census numbers, figure percentages and calculate how much that proposed tax increase is going to cost the average reader.
Unfortunately, most of us are really bad at it. In fact, the only way I passed college algebra was by promising my professor I’d never go into anything that had to do with math. So it was with great trepidation that I sat down Monday to do my taxes faced with the drop-dead deadline and possible jail time if I didn’t.
But, as happens every year at tax time, I stared at the state income tax form and scratched my head. Under the heading of income are two columns, one marked “Taxpayer” and the other marked “Spouse.” The question that always pops into my head is why? On the federal tax forms, both incomes are combined just as they are in most married couples’ bank accounts. So why does Mississippi require them to be reported separately? And who, by default, is considered the taxpayer, and who is the spouse? Does that mean the spouse doesn’t have to pay any taxes, only the taxpayer?
Maybe it’s a hold-over from the days when women weren’t considered equal to men, at least when women weren’t in the room. Maybe it’s some macho Southern redneck thing, a relic of the plantation days, so men can gloat over their superiority.
“Here, honey, you need to sign this tax form and, my, my, look at how much more money I made than you did.”
Somehow I doubt it, otherwise there would be a distinct rise in the number of deaths by W2 forms around April 15 each year.
But the really perplexing thing about Mississippi’s income tax form is that you’re given exemptions and then told in the instructions that you can divide those deductions up between taxpayer and spouse any way you choose. Now that might mean something if it actually meant anything.
Like I said, I’m no math wiz, but I fail to see any logic in this unless, again, it’s just a way for the taxpayer to stick it to the spouse.
“Well, just for that I’m putting all the deductions in MY column!”
Makes absolutely no sense. If you have a finite amount of income, and, trust me, my household has a very finite amount of income, and a finite amount of deductions, it doesn’t matter how you divide them up you’re still going to come out with the same amount of taxable income. Right?
Makes no sense to me whatsoever.

Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by email at marusse1@olemiss.edu.