Taxes and Senior Citizen Discounts. Whose money is it?

November 3rd, 2010

Here is a very interesting exchange from today’s arguments in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn regarding the nature of a tax deduction versus a tax credit–and more specifically, when a person’s money becomes the money of the state.

JUSTICE SCALIA: That’s a great leap to say 23 that it’s government funds, that any money the 24 government doesn’t take from me because it gives me a 25 deduction is government money. I mean, that’s the first leap you make.
MR. BENDER: This is money that the government takes from people.
JUSTICE SCALIA: This money has never been in the government’s coffers. The government has declined to take this money.
MR. BENDER: But it’s money that’s raised by the State’s income tax. Every tax-credited dollar is a dollar that has to be paid either to the government as income taxes due or to an STO.
JUSTICE KENNEDY: I’ll — I’ll give you credit, Mr. Bender. In your brief you say if you are wrong on that point that you are folding your tent and leaving, there’s –that there is no standing and that there’s no — no violation. But I must say, I have some difficulty that any money that the government doesn’t take from me is still the government’s money.

Next Justice Kennedy–who at one point was Circuit Justice for the 11th Circuit and must’ve eaten at his share of restaurants in Boca Raton–analogizes the situation to a senior citizen’s discount.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Let me ask you. If — if you reach a certain age, you can get a — a card and go to certain restaurants and they give you 10 percent credit. I think it would be rather offensive for the cashier to say, “and be careful how you spend my money.” (Laughter. )
JUSTICE KENNEDY: But that’s the whole point of your case.

I recently spent a weekend with my grandparents in Boca. If the cashier at Ben’s Kosher Deli (decent food for South Florida) ever made such a quip to one of Boca’s finest, there would be hell to pay.