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Think your tax bill's high? Check out the president's

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By ROBERT TRIGAUX, Times Business Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 16, 2003


With their richly rewarded corporate backgrounds, it's no surprise that the tag team of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are, together, the nation's wealthiest elected leadership duo in recent history.

So it's only logical that Bush and wife Laura, and Cheney and wife Lynne, also have paid -- combined -- the most in federal taxes by a president and vice president. Possibly ever.

If some version of the tax cuts proposed by the Bush administration come to fruition, the multimillionaire status of both the president and vice president means they will also be significant beneficiaries of any likely tax reductions. That includes a proposed elimination of the tax on dividends.

On the other hand, a review of the last three years of President Bush's federal tax returns (those portions he has made public) reveals a family's wealth that is managed (in trusts not controlled by the president) in an extremely risk-averse fashion. Aside from presidential pay, the bulk of Bush's income comes as interest received on partnerships invested heavily in U.S. Treasury bonds and other conservative holdings.

This is not a president whose financial managers chose to do much dabbling in the stock markets in the past three years.

President Bush and his wife released their 2002 federal tax return last week, reporting a hefty $856,056 in adjusted gross income and paying $268,719, or about 31 percent, in federal income taxes.

Despite the poor economy and struggling Dow, the president's income has remained remarkably stable since taking office.

In 2000, Bush's adjusted gross income was $894,880. That's impressive, since Bush earned only $70,554 in salary that year as governor of Texas after declining his paycheck for those days when he was campaigning for president. Most of his money that year came from interest ($549,236, mostly from Treasury bond investments of the millions he was paid after selling off his stake in the Texas Rangers major league baseball team), capital gains and a $75,000 advance (money he gave away) for his campaign book, A Charge to Keep.

In 2001, Bush's adjusted gross income fell to $811,100, despite wages that jumped five-fold to $381,935. The key differences were a decline in interest income, plus a $91,592 reported loss from partnerships that helped reduce Bush's adjusted income.

In 2002, Bush's adjusted gross income increased to $856,058, despite declines in interest and dividend income.

Combined, the Bushes' last three years generated adjusted gross income of just over $2.56-million and federal taxes paid of $759,263. That's a tax rate of 29.7 percent.

As vice president, Cheney may be No. 2. But measured by bucks, he is clearly No. 1.

In 2000, Cheney and wife Lynne reported adjusted gross income of $36.1-million, largely reflecting Cheney's lucrative tenure and divestitures as chief executive officer of Halliburton Co., the Houston energy services firm. Their income also came from the $948,738 Lynne Cheney received from writing and speaking as a cultural commentator, and another $443,730 paid to Dick Cheney (all before taking office) as a corporate director and consultant by Electronic Data Systems, Union Pacific Corp., AT&T Media One and US West. Federal taxes paid that year: a hefty $14.3-million.

In 2001, the Cheneys reported a more modest but still sizeable adjusted gross income of $4,356,625. By 2002, the Cheneys adjusted gross income had shrunk to $1,166,735. Besides his $190,134 government salary, Cheney still earned $162,392 in deferred compensation from Halliburton. Federal taxes paid: $341,114.

All told, for the past three years, the Cheneys enjoyed adjusted gross income of a stunning $41,609,995 -- easily making them the most compensated couple to occupy the vice That's a high federal tax rate of 39 percent.

A little perspective, please.

In 1999, his last year as president, Bill Clinton and wife Hillary reported a combined adjusted gross income of $416,039. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush's last year in the White House, he and wife Barbara had adjusted gross income of $1.3-million.

President Ronald Reagan, in his last year in office, reported in 1987 an adjusted gross income with wife Nancy of just under $350,000. And President Jimmy Carter, on his 1979 federal tax return, reported adjusted gross income of just under $194,000.

That used to sound like a lot of money. Now it won't get anyone even close to the White House.

-- Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8405.

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