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Why Didn't Romney Pay Less Than 14 Percent In 2011?



This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney released his 2011 tax return this week in an effort to quell fiscal controversy about his personal finances. The Romney Campaign accompanied the release with a letter from his accountant that says the candidate paid at least 13 percent of his income in taxes in each of the past 20 years.

But as NPR's John Ydstie reports, Mr. Romney turned in more taxes than he was required to last year in order to avoid paying less than 13 percent.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: Mitt Romney's income last year was nearly $13,700,000, which puts him well into the top one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans. He paid almost $1,936,000 in taxes. That's a tax rate of just over 14 percent, more than the average American pays, and less than many high income Americans do.

But yesterday, Romney's campaign revealed that he could have paid an even lower tax rate if he'd chosen to. That's because Romney deducted only a portion of the quite generous amount he gave to charities in 2011. That's a curious thing says Roberton Williams of the non-partisan Tax Policy Center.

ROBERTON WILLIAMS: He gave away about $4 million, but took a deduction for only about $2.2. And it's very clear that the only reason for doing that would be to inflate his taxes and therefore inflate his tax rate.

YDSTIE: In fact, if Romney had taken the full deduction, his tax rate would have been below 10 percent according to NPR's calculations. Paying more taxes than he's required to puts Romney in a bit of an uncomfortable position. He's said a number of times he only pays the taxes he legally owes, and as he told ABC News in an interview, he believes that's what Americans would expect.

MITT ROMNEY: I don't pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due, I don't think I'd be qualified to become president. I think people would want me to follow the law and pay only what the tax code requires.

YDSTIE: The problem for Romney was that he had also previously said that during the past 10 years he had never paid less that 13 percent of his income in taxes. A campaign spokesman said Romney instructed his tax preparers to ensure that his tax return was consistent with that statement.

A letter for Romney's accountants, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, included in yesterday's release said Romney had paid an average of about 20 percent of his income in taxes during the past 20 years. During the same period, he gave about 13 and a half-percent of his annual income to charity.

John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.