WESTERVILLE, Ohio -- In a line that event attendees found a bit puzzling, Mitt Romney warned a crowd of mostly middle-class onlookers on Wednesday not to expect too much tax relief under his administration.
"We have got to reform our tax system," Romney said at a morning event here. "Small businesses most typically pay taxes at the individual tax rate. And so our individual income taxes are the ones I want to reform. Make them simpler. I want to bring the rates down. By the way, don't be expecting a huge cut in taxes because I'm also going to lower deductions and exemptions. But by bringing rates down we will be able to let small businesses keep more of their money so they can hire more people."
The comments were either a flub on Romney's part or an admission that many of the deductions and exemptions that he will have to target in order to make his tax plan deficit neutral will end up affecting the middle class.
To date, Romney has said that he will only eliminate deductions and exemptions above a certain income level. He hasn't said what that income level would be. But when asked whether he would make $100,000 the cutoff, he said that he considered "middle income" to be "$200,000 to $250,000 and less." (One of the few Romney-backing studies has said that the only way his tax plan adds up is if he eliminates deductions and exemptions above that $100,000 income level).
Romney's comment on Wednesday left some in the crowd believing that their deductions and exemptions -- be they on home mortgage interest payments, charitable donations or employer-provided health insurance -- would be targeted if he became president. And it wasn't a top-income-bracket type of crowd. In 2009, the estimated median household income in Westerville was $76,154. Census data from 2011 shows that the mean household income in Franklin County, which contains part of Westerville, is $65,607. For Delaware County, which contains another part of Westerville, that number is $107,231.
"I'm curious what he meant by that," Westerville resident Phil Bentley said of Romney's comment. "I don't know if I have seen those details."
Still, Bentley said, he supported Romney's overall tax plan, which calls for a 20 tax cut across the board for all income brackets, and which Romney insists will remain deficit neutral In fact, none of the half-dozen attendees interviewed after the event expressed concern about the remarks, offering up lines of explanation that one wouldn't often expect at a Republican presidential candidate's rally.
"We need the taxes to stay the way they are because we have to get the debt down," said Margo Belkofer, of Powell, Ohio.
"He's not promoting a tax cut, he is preventing a tax increase," said Jim Bachelder, of Westerville.
Cynthia Beitman, of Westerville, said she was fine with Romney eliminating deductions and exemptions for people like her, so long as he lowered the rates overall for small businesses. "People run small businesses," she exclaimed.
"I thought that line was really good," said Patty Karst of Gahanna, Ohio. "You have to realize as a society that we have to have the funds for infrastructure, the protection of the country and the social programs we support."