Taxes pay for stuff – part I

So I received my property tax bill the other day. I always love getting the statement. It’s a great reminder that those dastardly taxes that conservative and Republicans like to complain about actually pay for – you know – stuff.

I’m not going to post the bill itself. (I guess I’m still trying to hold the line against that whole “the Internet means no privacy” thing.) But here’s the breakdown of my Tazewell County and Morton property taxes:

  • 70% goes to the local public schools
  • 6.7% goes to Illinois Central College
  • 2.4% goes to the local library
  • 4.4% goes to local parks
So, more than three-quarters of my property taxes go to education. Gosh darn those kids (and young and older adults at ICC) and their schooling!
Add in the library and parks, and fully 83.5% of my property tax bill goes to education and quality of life in Morton. Darn that quality of life!
Two percent is specifically broken out for roads. I like roads. They help people get to places in cars and trucks, you know. Places like work, stores, customers, hospitals, etc.
So that leaves just 14.5% of my property taxes going to “guv-mint”. Just 14.5%, covering all of this, including things like law enforcement, courts, and public health.

Putting this another way:

Next up, state taxes.

Happy to pay taxes

The Peoria Journal Star has an interesting letter-to-the-editor today:

I am proud to pay my taxes.

After all, I am gainfully employed and earned the money, which generated the levying of those taxes. I have a roof over my head, and a pillow for it at night. I have sufficient food for my sustenance, a vehicle for transportation, decent health and the ability to care for myself.

My background suggests that I should be grateful for these gifts, and compassionate enough to share them with those less fortunate. Why should I begrudge those who struggle when I can help them? Why should I deny the means to repair roads, establish small businesses, provide new jobs for those seeking them, ensure safe housing and milk for children, or provide better educational opportunities for those most in need?

What happened to the U.S.A. which once saw itself as a community that pitched in and contributed to others without second-guessing how hard they worked or how much they needed, without micro-managing the economy for selfish ends, with resisting participation in this nation’s forward movement toward a solid economy?

Or have we all joined the ranks of those CEOs who only saw greed at the ends of their noses?

May the spirit of charity reign, especially on April 15.

Dr. Jean E. Jost

I applaud Dr. Jost for writing her letter. I agree with some of what she says. But I don’t think it’s a set of arguments that’s going to get very far with many Americans.

Liberals need to come up with an entire way to frame and discuss taxes. But I think we need to start with the assumption that most people hate taxes, not that they are happy to pay them or see it as patriotic. We might eventually be able to define tax-paying as patriotic, but I don’t think people will ever be happy – not when they have to pay for things they don’t like (taxes are not voluntary), and that includes both the left and the right.

Finding the taxes to pay for Obama’s budget

My commenter The Intellectual Redneck has pointed out another Wall Street Journal article that makes the point that even 100% taxes on high-income earners won’t pay for the Obama budget. As I said in a comment, I’m not perfectly happy with the Obama budget. I like the numbers to add up. But I’m more than happy with the general trade-offs of the budget.

That said, I want to make a couple of quick points about taxes and the Obama budget plans.

First, we do have to come up with a way to close the budget gap. I don’t think those kind of deficits are sustainable even in the medium-term, let along the long-term. Certainly I think there are spending cuts we could make (less global military hegemony and fewer ag subsidies, to name a couple). I also think we could add in consumption (sales) taxes at the federal level. Consumption taxes get dinged by liberals because they’re regressive, but it could exclude food and other necessary items. That way we’d get disincentives on buying just lots of crap, especially lots of expensive crap bought by the wealthy.

Second, this passage by Clive Crook reminded me of something I’ve thought of before:

In this “new era of responsibility”, as the budget document is called, it would have been better for Obama to signal that huge and desirable initiatives like universal health care will impose at least some costs on all Americans. It is literally impossible to make the rich pay for everything, and telling 95% of voters that they can have all these things at no cost is not good leadership. It has even less to do with shared responsibility.

I do think that it’s important for everyone – no matter the income – to pay something in the way of taxes for the services they receive from government – even if it’s a nominal buck. Certainly we are all citizens with equal political worth. But I think there is also something to being able to say that you paid your taxes – that you’re a citizen in that regard, too. Maybe this is a bit of my public radio background coming out here. During our pledge drives, we asked people to offer even five or ten bucks, just so they could have that sense of ownership of the station. I think that can apply to government, too.

Now, of course, I’d like to see this as part of a plan to broadly increase wages and compensation across the income spectrum, but that’s a different post.