Monday, January 31, 2011

Membership fees

I started working on our federal income tax return a few days ago. Did the first pass through it, and had a whoa, that can't be right reaction. No refund. The S.O. and I have almost always managed to calculate withholding so that the IRS ends up writing us a check, not vice versa. Some years it turns out to be an unexpectedly large windfall, like last year when we scored big thanks to the Making Work Pay credit and a credit for the sales tax we paid on a new car in 2009; some years it's just enough that I breathe a sigh of relief that we squeaked by again. 

Let me make something clear. I don't object to paying taxes. I am not happy that a big chunk of what I pay into the federal budget goes to pay for overpriced, unnecessary, and often obsolete before it's even deployed military hardware and useless, bloody wars, but just on general principles I don't mind paying taxes. It's been said that the only thing that hurts more than paying income tax is not paying income tax, and I tend to agree. I'd rather be taxed than poor or unemployed. Paying taxes above and beyond what was already withheld means we're doing well. 

Furthermore, although maybe it's just another sign I'm still a hopeless idealist, I view taxes as the price we pay for being able to live in a semi-civilized country. As Franklin Roosevelt said, "Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society." We pay taxes and in exchange we get to drive on paved roads, send our kids to (for the most part) decent schools, eat foods that (also for the most part) are not contaminated with anything too disgusting or unsafe, enjoy camping and recreation in public parks and forests, and so on. I'm enough an adult to recognize that a lot of the things we take for granted wouldn't exist without government dollars and oversight.

Unfortunately, it appears I'm in the minority in this country, because it seems like every time I turn on the tv I'm treated to some idiot telling me the only way to solve various problems is to cut taxes. Roads and bridges are crumbling? Solution: cut taxes so there's even less money to pay for repairs. Classrooms overcrowded? Solution: cut taxes so there's even less money to hire teachers. Feeling paranoid about crime? Solution: cut taxes so police departments have to furlough officers and reduce patrols.* There is this amazingly pervasive belief that, yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. You really can have something for nothing. Just invoke St. Ronnie (who actually presided over one of the largest tax increases in history, but why let boring facts interfere with a good fantasy?), blame illegal immigrants and greedy unions, and all will be well.

[*True story: a few years ago, one of the counties in Upper Michigan was having budget woes and put a limit on how many miles per week the sheriff's department deputies were allowed to drive the patrol cars, basically one tank's worth. Local residents complained bitterly, but continued to vote down every millage request that would have helped the department's budget.] 


  1. I haven't tackled our taxes yet, but we owe every year due to my husband's self employment. We have never complained about paying taxes no matter how much we made and how much the tax was because we have kids in school, use the parks,roads, library, police services, fire services etc. that they cover. I gree that if we were allowed to determine where our tax dollars go, we would all feel better. The hawks coupld pay for the military and those concerned for the social welfare could opt to pay for those services. We would probably all be happy to pay for schools and police, too.

    While I have nothing but contempt for those who are ruining our country with their tax revolt; I do understand the frustration of not feeling I have any input about what our taxes pay for. I am tired of the political decisions that have so little to do with the good of the nation as a whole and the future of our country.

  2. I read on someone's blog or an e-zine and now can't find it, that the USA was way way down the list of effective or efficient use of public spending. That may account for people's reluctance to pay taxes, but of course there is always the something for nothing crowd.
    As you point out, paying taxes is a privilege in countries with (mostly) fair and transparent tax systems since it means you earned enough to warrant it.

  3. scary that they really think that will work..have no money for schools, firemen, police, teachers, poor people.? lower the taxes..sigh*

  4. Oh, you should try living in Idaho! (No, not really.) Our idiot governor rails against Federal interference, but takes every penny of ARRA dollars he can get his mitts on. We have glorious roads and schools that are literally supported by private fundraising because budgets are slashed so horrifically for education. All our kids are qualified to do nowadays is pave roads and flag traffic.


    Anyway, I'm pro taxes. If it meant that all our citizens could have food and shelter and our children were well cared for, I'd contentedly pay 60% or whatever it took. There are a lot of people who need it far more than I.

  5. I'm glad I'm not the only one who has noticed that, among the wealthy who can actually afford to pay taxes, the automatic response seems to be "cut taxes" no matter what the question is. Is the economy tanking and our government struggling to pay for schools or bridge repair? Well, that's ok, just cut taxes and the economy will rebound soon. Is there a surplus in the budget because the economy did well this year? No, no, Virginia, of course we shouldn't tend to that infrastructure repair or give the teachers a pay raise this year! We should cut taxes instead, so that next year when the repairs can't be put off any longer and the economy is bad again, we can claim we have to cut taxes to stimulate the economy so things will get better so we can cut taxes again.

    Uh, yeah....


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