Why I would pay more taxes

Photo of protesters with signs like zero taxes, and red letters pointing out all the tax payer funded things around them like street lamps, roads, etc

Via tmblg

It’s tax day, that annual event which many folks gripe about–having to decipher complicated tax codes and documents, and sometimes, paying more to Uncle Sam. It’s also a particularly pertinent tax day amidst conversations about a growing deficit and severe budget cuts across the board nationally.

It’s also a time of the year when I watch many of my progressive friends and colleagues complain wholeheartedly about how much they pay in taxes. I get it. A lot of us live at the edge of our means, and that extra few bucks presents a challenge. Maybe.

But underneath it all is a incongruity between the personal and the political. As progressives, we support the social safety net and government support of a range of programs and services. But then when it comes to contributing to that burden ourselves, many of us gripe.

For some folks, this might come from a distaste for one of our largest government expenditures: defense and war spending. I get that as well. It’s a tough position that we’re in, not being able to pick and choose and say “my tax dollars can go to welfare, or medicaid, or abortion, but not the war overseas.” I know that it’s infuriating that conservatives have been able to drive policy away from paying for abortions because of their objection, but we can’t drive spending away from war.

Let’s push as hard as we can to redirect energy and spending to the programs we care about and away from defense spending. But let’s not undermine taxes in the process.

I would even pay MORE taxes if I knew that things like our social safety net were being protected and strengthened. I love the image above, which I originally saw posted on the Colorlines tumblr, because it illustrates the hypocrisy of those who fight against taxes. These protesters are standing next to roads built and maintained by taxpayer funding, next to street signs, traffic lights, utilities, all financed in some respect by taxpayer money. If there were no taxes, so many things that are fundamental to the working of our society would cease to exist.

If we allow the country to be swept up in anti-tax fervor then we have little chance of ever gaining the social programs we think are necessary.

President Obama finally took a stance on taxes in his most recent White House address about the budget deal:

I don’t think it’s right to ask seniors to pay thousands more for health care, or ask students to postpone college, just so we don’t have to ask those who have prospered so much in this land of opportunity to give back a little more.

We’ll reduce spending in our tax code with tax reform that’s fair and simple – so that the amount of taxes you pay doesn’t depend on how clever an accountant you can afford.  And we should end the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, too.  Because people like me don’t need another tax cut.

Thank you President Obama for finally saying it. And thank you for talking about the fact that the IRS tax code, with its zillions of rules and loopholes, allows some to get away with paying almost nothing because they have the right accountant. This includes individuals, but more importantly, it includes huge mega-corporations like GE and these ten other companies that paid basically no taxes this year.

I pay a lot in taxes because I am self-employed. As a self-employed person, despite being a one-woman job creation project, I have to pay the 7% of my federal tax burden that most employers front on behalf of their employees. I actually pay my taxes quarterly, every three months, in big chunks. But I would pay more if I knew that our social safety net was being improved. I would gladly fork over the hundreds of dollars I pay monthly for my private health insurance plan if I knew it was going to build a better health care system that isn’t about profits over people.

Kai Wright of Colorlines wrote a post last week about the six tax-funded things that have impacted his life as part of the Thank Taxes campaign.

I like that meme. Instead of griping about how much we have to pay, let’s highlight how tax-payer funded programs have improved our lives. These are the programs that are being threatened nationwide right now, and they are where our efforts need to go.

I’d like to thank taxes for:

My education. I went to public school in NC from kindergarten to 12th grade. Despite being 48th in the nation in teacher pay, I got a solid education in this system.

My mom’s job. She’s a professor at a public NC university, and her career has enabled my life in many many ways.

Roads. I drive and bike on them all the time. They are mostly funded by tax dollars.

My grandmother’s care. My grandmother is elderly and has Alzheimer’s. She requires 24 hour care in a facility that caters to folks with her condition, which my family partially funds using her Medicare and Social Security benefits.

Public Transportation. I’ve lived in DC and NYC for most of my adult life and I take for granted how much better my life is because of buses, subways and metros.

Libraries. As a kid I lived in libraries. I was a total bookworm, checking out piles and piles of books. I’m still amazed when I go to libraries and realize I can check out books and DVDs for free, in addition to the free internet and computer usage most of the provide now.

What do you thank taxes for?

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11 Comments

  1. Posted April 18, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    That’s easy. I thank taxes for allowing me the ability to have health insurance. I depend on both Medicare and Medicaid for being a) disabled and b) low-income. They’re not perfect programs, but they are at least something.

    And regarding taxation, the burden of taxation falls disproportionately on the middle class. As we have seen, the rich pay nowhere near their fair share, or find loopholes in the existing law to get around what they ought to pay. The poor can’t contribute much, and whenever Democrats shape the laws, they usually ensure that their tax burden is light.

  2. Posted April 18, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this sensible look at taxes.

    I’d like to point out something that very few people noticed about taxes this last year: when the Bush Tax cuts were extended, although taxes stayed the same for middle and upper-class Americans, they went up for people living at the poverty level. I took home $12,000 pre-taxes last year, about $860 total after taxes every month, and when those tax cuts for people making 6 figures were extended, I had to start forking over $30 more every month to Uncle Sam.

    I actually don’t mind paying taxes. I would pay more if I could afford it, but for a person living at the federal poverty level who scrimps at the end of every month to pay rent and bills, and eats a lot of Ramen, I don’t see why I, should pay more when so many other people who can afford to pay more simply won’t. That same $30, for a person who makes $100,000, or even $60,000, a year wouldn’t make much difference, but for me it makes things much harder.

    We need to tax people fairly, and spend those taxes on the right things, so that we can all have a decent standard of living, feed and clothe ourselves, have a place to live and see a doctor if we have to. There is enough wealth in the country for all of us to do so. I hate to see people caught up in a selfish, us/them way of thinking, where they are resentful that other people want their hard earned cash to feed themselves or their children, when they would only use that same cash to have a night out or a new dress or an extra vacation day. I don’t think that every needs to live at the same financial level, or even that people with more should be taxed so much it hurts, but I don’t understand why we begrudge others basic necessities.

    Why am I thankful for taxes?

    Public schools: I went to them, from Kindergarten on, and now in a public grad school, I can say that I got a really great education along the way. I hope more kids can do the same in the future.

    SEPTA: I live in Philly, and man I hate SEPTA, but really, where would I be without it?

    Planned Parenthood: That’s right. I haven’t had health insurance since 2003, but I always knew I could go to PP for yearly checkups, birth control, or some free condoms.

    Firemen and firewomen: All of them strong, sexy, and incredibly useful.

    Fruit in corner stores: an initiative funded by tax dollars to bring fresh fruit to food deserts. I never realized how hard it could be to get fresh fruit until I moved to my neighborhood in North Philly, and I am so glad for this every day.

    Temple University Dental School: Without which I don’t know how I could have dealt with an infected, impacted wisdom tooth.

  3. Posted April 18, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Definitely an easy question for me. I thank taxes for my job. As a (temporary) employee at a public community college I would not have a job if not for tax payer dollars. I also thank taxes for my education. I have attended public schools my entire life, from elementry school to my college. If not for taxpayer dollars I would not have access to affordable education.

  4. Posted April 18, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you. I would also pay more taxes and hate the anti-tax fervor that has swept the nation since Reagan. However, there is absolutely no reason that lower and middle-income people need to pay more taxes (or even as much as they’re paying). As you note, the wealthy and corporations pay nowhere near to their fair share. We do need to redirect spending – not just from defense but from things like oil and agriculture subsidies and prisons. But more than anything, we need to make individuals and corporations pay.

  5. Posted April 18, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this, Perez! Here’s one of my favorite quotes on this topic:

    “I like paying taxes. With it I buy civilization.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

  6. Posted April 18, 2011 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    I would like to hypothesize that one reason that government expenditures do not match many peoples priorities is because decision on how to use a great deal of tax revenue are made on a national level by the federal government. It is the federal government that runs most of my least favorite programs, like foreign wars, the surveillance state, and the war on drugs. Local governments are by nature less likely to pursue such initiatives.

    Things like roads, libraries, community colleges, and schools are primarily local initiatives. The federal government only funds them by taxing money up out of the community and then sending it back to the state and local governments,less administrative costs, and along with guidelines on how to use it.

    So I feel like it is ok to complain about your federal income tax burden. FICA taxes which fund great society programs are separate from the income tax. The size of the income tax leaves local governments, which do or should provide the government services that most every day people take for granted, starved for revenue.

  7. Posted April 18, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    I thank our tax dollars for my public high school’s music program (even though the budget for next year is being cut…a lot) and for the local park where I can escape the crazyness of school/parents/friends. I’m also thankful for the opportunity to take AP classes at the local community college for free while still in HS.

  8. Posted April 18, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Second the love public schools. I had some truly first rate teachers throughout my K-12 years.
    Also, I just want to point out the sign that says ‘Cut taxes, not defense.’ My dear, what do you think pays for defense?

  9. Posted April 19, 2011 at 3:40 am | Permalink

    I frequently shake my head when I see feminists misplace their efforts and try to work within the confines of the government. But this is just too much.

    The principle of government is founded on violence, and taxation is its easiest to spot manifestation. Pay your taxes or be thrown in jail at gunpoint.

    I implore you comrades. Seek solutions outside of a system that is inherently violent. The fundamentals of society would not cease to exist; you are not giving humanity enough credit. We are only held back when the government holds a monopoly on roads, schools, the distribution of much of our income… Efficiency is driven by competition.

    If instead of starting from a position of why we need the government we challenge ourselves to think of how we would solve things otherwise, one realizes that the possibilities are e n d l e s s . Why limit ourselves to just one?

    There are tons of resources on the internet about living in a truly free world. Emma Goldman is a good place to start. If you are genuinely curious and open-minded about the topic, I promise it will be a “click” experience just like feminism.

  10. Posted April 19, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    I think you captured the essence of the debate, being more about what we spend the money on rather than how much. I’m unemployed now, but I wouldn’t mind paying more taxes if I knew they were being spent on more social programs. I often look at many European countries with high tax rates and think, yes they pay high taxes, but they also don’t have the monthly bills of healthcare, daycare, and education in some instances. So why not pay more taxes and reduce our monthly spending as a result? But as you noted, its about how the government spends the money that becomes controversial, especially on the more “progressive” (progressive lately seems centrist at best) side.

    I’d like to thank taxes for:

    Health Awareness (scrapped now) and Planned Parenthood, where I could get free condoms and birth control before 17 and free appointments and low cost birth control afterwards

    MassGrant and Pell Grant: I think both are at least partially funded by taxes and I have been able to get through college in part by their assistance

    Social Security Benefits: After my father passed away, my mother received a monthly check for my brother, sister, and I. My father worked very hard and paid his taxes and as a result, my mom had consistent financial security to pay bills and keep us fed and educated.

    Public School: Despite dropping out in 11th grade, I still got a good education. I was given the tools to pass the GED and do well in college (though much credit goes to my parents). My sister did well enough to receive a scholarship of $50,000 a year to a top notch university, just by attending a public high school.

    Low-cost Spay Mobile: I think this is at least partially publicly funded in Massachusetts. I was able to get my babies (my pride and joy) spayed for between $50 and $75 with shots and a check-up because of my low income. Without that, my kittens would have been unspayed and possibly unhealthy, and it would have cost over $150 for just one to be done.

    Here are just a few of mine :) . Thanks for the article. I love seeing what I view as common sense, though its becoming less common now.

  11. Posted April 27, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Public schools. I had some amazing teachers and resources at my public schools, and I am ever so thankful for them.

    Right now, I’m living in Denmark, and while they have an exceedingly high income tax rate (roughly 40 to 60%), they have free healthcare, free primary and high school education, and FREE UNIVERSITY. Plus, when you are a student, you get a monthly grant of roughly $1000 a month. Taxes are high. So are incomes. And most commercial items are expensive. But I would gladly fork over a chunk of my income for more free education and healthcare.

    On the downside (which there is, and I don’t want to portay this place as a utopian social democracy) is of course their henious immigration system, which I am currently mucking my way through.

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