Taxes, Shmaxes?

My memory is growing a bit hazy, but I think it was my third grade teacher who hung a poster treating, of all things, the topic of maturity. Maturity, according to this nugget of wisdom, is foregoing the immediate pleasure in favor of the long-term gain. Kind of a heavy message for a third grader, and there are other ways of thinking and talking about maturity. But this is a good place to start.

I’m trying to set the tone for a treatment of taxes and taxation, and I can’t help but think that not only is this about how we feel about money and who gets to keep and use it, but how we view our role in society. I argue that a mature, rational way of thinking about the responsibilities of citizenship includes making peace with the fact that taxation, as odious and unpleasant as it might be, is also a necessity. An obligation.

The latest November election cycle included a statewide ballot question regarding property taxation, and whether or not to leave it up to individual municipalities to levy or not levy these taxes. Predictably, the results leaned toward leaving the decision to the municipalities, assumingly in hopes of local officials deciding against collection of these taxes.

In some ways, it’s a no-brainer. Homeowners would save money, and who doesn’t like saving money? But isn’t there a thornier issue, a looming question regarding what would take the place of the tax which was used to fund school budgets?  It’s too easy just to say, “Don’t tax me for that.” But where and what are the viable alternatives for funding our schools? Bake sales? Donations from concerned citizens?

I would prefer to keep every penny I earn, but beyond just being selfish, this is an unrealistic way of looking at things.

Most everybody should pay taxes, including the one percenters with offshore tax shelters, and the corporations who levy undue influence by holding out for tax breaks that can only cripple or at least inhibit a community’s ability to deliver needed services. Promises of employment and other potential benefits are fine and good, but I need to see studies confirming that this is actually what happens when a mega-company moves in,  builds a plant and then either doesn’t pay taxes or enjoys reduced taxation for twenty years or longer.

I know this touches on one’s philosophy of governance and commerce and what Hamilton and the rest actually envisioned at the birth of this nation, but the hard reality is that government at every level is entrusted with certain responsibilities, among them the proper management of assets as these are used to alleviate suffering and provide services to citizens who live in any given village or city. We can’t depend on collective largesse and altruism to fill human needs. Nor does it seem realistic to expect charitable organizations to handle such responsibilities.

And enough of the bootstraps mentality. I’m tired of hearing how, if everyone just works hard, they’ll make their own way. That philosophy boils my blood, because not everyone gets an equal shot at tackling life this way. People need help from time to time.

It is just too easy for someone in a penthouse or a board room to sit back and say, “If I can do it, so can you.”

Bull shit.

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