`Joe the plumber,” the Toledo, Ohio, man whose complaints about Barack Obama’s tax plan were highlighted by John McCain in the final presidential debate, owes the state of Ohio almost $1,200 in back income taxes.
According to records on file with the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, the state filed a tax lien against Samuel J. Wurzelbacher for $1,182.98 on Jan. 26, 2007, that is still active.
Wurzelbacher was thrust into the national spotlight this week when he told Obama he worried that the Illinois senator’s proposals to roll back Bush administration tax breaks for Americans earning more than $250,000 would prevent him from buying a plumbing business that would earn between $250,000 and $280,000 a year.
McCain, an Arizona Republican senator, pointed to the exchange during the debate last night when he turned to the camera and said, “I will not stand for a tax increase on small-business income.” Directly criticizing Obama, he added, “what you want to do to `Joe the plumber’ and millions more like him is have their taxes increased and not be able to realize the American dream of owning their own business.”
Today, at a rally in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, McCain said “the real winner last night was `Joe the plumber.”’
On Oct. 12, as Obama was campaigning door-to-door in suburban Toledo, Wurzelbacher confronted the Democratic presidential nominee about his tax plan.
“Do you believe in the American dream?” Wurzelbacher asked before asking about the tax increase. “I’m being taxed more and more for fulfilling the American dream.”
Wurzelbacher’s home telephone number is unlisted, and efforts to reach him by calling his neighbors and family were unsuccessful. Attempts to reach Wurzelbacher at the plumbing company where he works were also unsuccessful. The address on the lien and other records for him matched the address published by the Toledo Blade, which also noted the lien.
The state of Ohio places a lien on real property after several steps to try to collect a tax debt, according to John Kohlstrand, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Taxation who said he couldn’t discuss any specific case.
If a delinquency notice goes unheeded, the Department of Taxation issues a billing notice, Kohlstrand said. If that is ignored, a more formal assessment notice is sent. Failing to appeal an assessment or losing an appeal puts the debt into the hands of the state attorney general for collection. The attorney general typically sends a collection notice and simultaneously files a lien.
“The taxpayers may not necessarily know about the lien,” Kohlstrand said, although they would receive other notices.
In Wurzelbacher’s case, the lien indicated that the notice was sent to a previous address in Toledo.
Ray Ann Estep, section chief for revenue-recovery services for the Ohio attorney general, said Wurzelbacher’s lien was filed six months after the Department of Taxation certified the debt for collection.
“Unfortunately, sometimes people don’t resolve their debts as quickly as we would like them to,” she said.
In addition to tax credits and a proposal that would allow Wurzelbacher to avoid paying capital-gains taxes if he ever sold the business he wants to acquire for a profit, Obama has proposed allowing the top two tax rates of 33 percent and 35 percent to revert to what they were during the Clinton administration, or 36 percent and 39.6 percent, respectively.
In 2007, the 33 percent bracket kicked in for taxable income exceeding $195,851.
Under Obama’s proposal, Wurzelbacher would face about $900 more in taxes if he netted $280,000 of income from his new business and had to pay an extra 3 percentage points on the amount over $195,851, said Gerald Prante, a senior economist at the Tax Foundation, a Washington research group that is examining both candidates’ plans.
“His average tax burden, the final bill he pays to the IRS isn’t going to go up much if he’s just making $280,000 a year,” Prante said. He would face higher marginal tax costs to expand the business beyond that, he said.
Not Taxable Income
It’s far more likely that the $280,000 Wurzelbacher told Obama he’d earn would be in the form of gross receipts and not taxable income, said Steven Bankler, a certified public accountant in San Antonio, who counts plumbers and other trade professionals as his clients.
By the time Wurzelbacher took proper business deductions, Bankler said, he’d be left with between $150,000 and $200,000 in taxable income and wouldn’t be affected by Obama’s proposed increase in the top rates.
Wurzelbacher might eventually have to pay more employment taxes under Obama’s plan to impose a rate of between 2 percent and 4 percent on wages over $250,000, Bankler said, but Obama has said that change wouldn’t take effect for a decade