Saturday, May 26, 2007

On why I enjoy paying my taxes:

I was listening to the news yesterday and I heard that the citizens of very wealthy Milton, Massachusetts have declined to pass an override that would increase their taxes in order to balance the town’s school budget. The alternative may be shutting down all sports programs or raising the fee for participation in a sport to over $700! They may have to excess 30-some teachers and make other cuts. But Milton residents so dislike paying taxes that they are willing to allow the quality of public education suffer rather than pay a little more. Maybe some of them think having to pay for shared community services is unfair. Maybe some of them consider paying taxes "throwing money down a hole." Maybe they don’t trust government to spend the money wisely.

People want everything but they don’t want to pay anything for it. They want better public transportation, better roads, cheap gas and cleaner air. They want infallible homeland security, a big bad standing military, and (though many may have changed their minds since) during the last election, a majority apparently wanted to pursue the suicidal occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. They want American students to pass high stakes tests, to be well-rounded, to go to college, and to be able to compete in a world market.

In the last few years, conservatives have gotten very good at controlling the language of the debate in the American political arena. Like “liberal,” they have made “taxes” a bad word. But taxes are really good for us all and for our community. Rampant individualism has made us forget about the benefits of living in community even as we continue to receive them-- for now.

I don’t know about you but I want my trash picked up so my neighborhood doesn’t smell like a dump and the streets repaired so I don’t lose a hubcap or break an axle in a pothole. I want good quality free public education for all children because it’s only fair, but also because when we don’t educate all children well, we, as a society, have to deal with the consequences. I even want the government to provide help to people who are struggling to get by, because I know there will always be people who need help. Equal access benefits from the government seem more fair and more effective than relying on individuals to notice people in need and invite them into their homes or churches for a meal, a bath or a place to sleep. I believe these necessities need to be provided on the community level and that they are worth paying for.

As for the argument that government can’t be trusted to spend money wisely... um, this is a democracy and we choose the people who run the government and, through them, what its laws and policies are. Yeah, sometimes elected officials don’t do what we want. There’s a remedy: vote them out! (Actually there are two. If we need to get someone out quick, before he starts World War III, we can impeach him!)

Maybe we should drop the term “taxes” and call them “dues” instead, or a “membership fee.” That’s basically what they are. You want to belong to this club? You want to get the benefits of driving on roads, of public services, of the national defense? Then you have to pay your dues.

Don’t let rich conservative republicans like George Bush (whose real agenda is for themselves and their cronies to make more money and pay fewer taxes) tell you that “taxes” is a four letter word. Taxes are the life’s blood of our society. I’m happy to pay mine to keep its heart pumping.

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