"This is an especially appropriate day for our testimony because, were it not for the 'marriage penalty,' April 2 would have been our 14th wedding anniversary." Angela M. Boyter H. David Boyter
Angela and David Boyter, the suburban Maryland couple whose successive quickie divorces and remarriages dramatically brought the issue of the marriage tax penalty to the attention of the American public a few years ago, pleaded their cause before the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday.
Noting that they have saved almost $15,000 in taxes over the past five years bby living together unwedded following their third divorce, they asked Congress to allow married couples the option of filing separate single-rate or joint income tax returns, whichever is to their financial advantage.
When Congress reduced the tax rates for single persons back in 1969, it inadvertently penalized married couples by making them pay more in taxes than they would have paid had they remained single. There has been a 149 percent increase since then in the number of unmarried men and women living together, although the social revolution is probably more to blame than the tax code.
Moreover, the divorce rate has increased by 96 percent. The Internal Revenue Service doesn't know how many "tax divorces" have taken place although the Boyters claim to have heard from many couples who followed their example.
Gail Jamin and Bob Jamin of Greenwich, Conn., formerly Mr. and Mrs., have even set up Tax Divorce Consultants Inc. to safeguard partners' legal rights when they divorce for tax purposes. The services include making "palimony" arrangements.
The number of married women in the work force is increasing, tax divorce notwithstanding. Six out of 10 working marriages today have two wage earners. By the end of the decade, it is estimated two-thirds to three-quarters of all married women will be working.
Sen. Charles Mathias (R-Md.) has introduced a bill to give married couples the option of filing together using married-couple rates or separately while using the rates for single persons. Yesterday he urged the Ways and Means Committee to expedite similar legislation introduced by Rep. Millicent Fenwick (D-N.J.).
The Treasury has estimated the revenue loss of the Mathias and Fenwick proposals at $8.3 billion. Another option would alleviate the marriage penalty partially by allowing a deduction from the adjusted gross income of the lower-paid spouse, resulting in about a $3.5 billion loss to the Treasury. A 10 percent deduction, for example, would eliminate about one-third of the present marriage penalty.
In his testimony yesterday, Emil M. Sunley, deputy assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy, said the Carter administration isn't prepared at this time to recommend any of the proposed solutions. Yet in answer to a question, Sunley said that the need to minimize revenue losses would be a factor in the administration's eventual choice.
As the president's spokesman, Sunley came in for some good-natured joshing from committee members about Carter's reticence. "Will you take a position on this after the primaries?" asked the ranking minority leader, Barbara Conable (R-N.Y.), referring to Carter's refusal to divulge budget cuts before his state's election. Then he added, "For an administration that prides itself on leadership, we are left with a certain degree of wallowment."