Fiscal Cliff

By Phillip Reese
preese@sacbee.com
Published: Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012 – 11:01 am

Enough to make a year’s worth of payments on a small car. Enough to take a weeklong vacation for two in Hawaii. Enough to feed a family of three for almost six months.

That’s the cost of tax increases for middle-class families in Sacramento and elsewhere next year if the government goes permanently off the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

The fiscal cliff is a series of tax increases and spending cuts that will go into effect on Tuesday unless Congress and the president agree to stop some or all of them. The nation’s leaders created the cliff during a previous fiscal crisis as a way of motivating Democrats and Republicans to agree on reducing the federal budget deficit.

A Sacramento family earning the median household income for the region – about $55,000 – would likely pay an additional $2,200 to $3,500 in taxes next year if the cuts and taxes go into effect, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

The full extent of those tax hikes wouldn’t be felt unless all of 2013 passed without a deal. But each day without an agreement makes it more likely that families will have to cough up at least a little extra to the federal government.

“Even if they work something out, most people agree that taxes are going to increase,” said Cynthia S. Myers, a certified financial planner based in Sacramento.

The cost of the fiscal cliff for local families will depend on their income level; whether they have children; whether they have a job; whether they have investment income; whether they are married and, most importantly, when – or if – leaders agree to mitigate some of the consequences.

Congress and the president could reach agreement early next year and make the terms of their deal retroactive, erasing or greatly reducing the cost of planned tax increases. Or they could argue long enough that retroactive action isn’t feasible.

“It makes it very difficult to plan for 2013,” said Terri Davis, a Sacramento-based certified public accountant.

A few elements would bite quickly if Congress doesn’t craft a deal.

Since early in the recession, the federal government has taken 2 percent less from wages in payroll taxes used to fund entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. On Jan. 1, that cut ends, forcing a family with $50,000 in annual earnings to pay about $1,000 extra in new taxes during the year.

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