A simple kind of math
A lot of talk about taxes hit the news last week as the April 15 Tax Day deadline rolled past — whose are going up and whose are going down and who doesn’t seem to pay any at all. How are taxes collected? Where does the money go? Why do I owe so much while she owes so little? Meanwhile Tea Party protestors demonstrated nationwide, seemingly against taxation as a very concept.
But as the saying goes, taxes are one of just two certainties in life, and by paying them you are participating in a tradition that dates back to the earliest civilizations. Egyptian pharaohs sent out tax collectors to make sure people kicked a little something upstairs. In Ancient Greece citizens paid a special wartime tax. Augustus Caesar became one of the world foremost bean counters when he initiated a sales tax and an inheritance tax on the citizens of the Roman Empire.
And with the paying of taxes has always come a vague, general feeling that this is how the strong prey on the weak. Still, there are legitimate functions that an organized government is best suited perform: roads and schools, national defense, law enforcement and public safety, resource maintenance… but we are not here to debate the role of government.
Yes, taxes suck, but underlying all the forms and terms and schedules is a very basic sort of mathematics: We figure out what we can do, how much it will cost and what everybody’s share will be.
We acknowledge that politicians use tax issues as political footballs — drawing class distinctions along socioeconomic lines, fomenting conflict among the populace. If you ask us, the Fair Tax is probably the best way to go, in that it eliminates special interests when deciding who ponies up every year. But then, nobody is asking us.
Fortunately, during election years, we are the ones who get to do the asking.
Just two weeks before the May 4 primary, there will undoubtedly be candidates pledging to lower taxes and others promising to add services. Voters should always ask themselves: What services will he cut to lower taxes? How will she pay for these new programs?
Better yet, they should ask the candidates. Voters would also be wise to remember that cities, counties and the state all face budget shortfalls this year, which means that it is theoretically possible we could end up with higher taxes and reduced services in 2011.
And if you’re running for office, you had better get your numbers in order.
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