Like millions of Americans, I filed my taxes today (Wednesday). I handed the envelope to the guy behind the post office counter and watched him postmark it. I was about 10 in the morning, so I’m sure it would have been fine, but I just like to see it. Nobody want’s trouble with the IRS, and we’ve had some … not of our doing. Maybe a bit more on that later. I didn’t feel particularly patriotic handing over the form, but then I have a small refund due, and I’m sure I’ll wait a month and a half to receive it. Nor did I feel particularly patriotic looking at the withholdings every couple of weeks when I was getting a regular paycheck. It just was. I had an accountant prepare my taxes this year, and I’m sure he found every available, legal deduction. I don’t imagine I’ll feel particularly patriotic about paying taxes on my meager unemployment compensation, either … but I’ll pay it.
Taxes just are. Death and taxes, the old saying goes. Taxes are necessary for the essential functions of government. But at all levels, from our city government to the federal morass, there are differences of opinion about what those core, essential functions of government are. They change with changing administrations, which makes them a moving target.
Taxes are used for social engineering. Home ownership is a good thing, so mortgage interest is deductible. I have a mortgage, so I think that’s a good thing. Kids are expensive, but required for the future workforce (if there’s any work), so there’s a tax credit for children. Congress offers tax breaks for things it things are important. Previous administrations have lowered taxes on businesses, which they said would encourage business growth and new jobs. What has been fairly well proven is that lower taxes usually means higher collections by the Treasury because people generally will try to shelter less if the rates are lower. Others think that “the rich”, which again is a moving target, should pay more because they have more to give. Through it all, we have come to have a federal tax code that is by most accounts incomprehensible. If you call the IRS with the same question more than once, you’re likely to get different answers from different advisors.
Still, I know that paying taxes is necessary. But reasonable people can disagree as to who can best spend their money.
But disturbingly, on this tax day, I have seen a lot of derision and vitriol directed at the folks holding “Tea Parties” around the country. These tea parties were organized by ordinary folks who are concerned about the business bailouts begun in the waning days of the Bush Administration and continued by President Obama. While the “Taxation without Representation” signs are something of a disconnect here, most of the rallies focused on the bailouts, which were begun under a Republican President and continued by a Democratic President and approved by a Congressional majority … and the mounting debt. I’d think that would be a non-partisian issue, and one about which we should all be concerned.
Still, many of the people I’ve friended, or who have invited me to be a friend on Facebook, have made snarky comments today about the tea parties, and I’m not sure why. Whether or not you agree with their premise or effectiveness, the Constitution guarantees everyone the right of peaceable assembly. The tea parties are speech, protected by the First Amendment. They are not “Republican” events, and I don’t imagine that the people who attended were all kooks any more than people attending any such event, regardless of political bent. Every movement or cause attracts an element that is perhaps outside the mainstream, but there are also people who are genuinely concerned about the issue.
These “Tea Parties” were grassroots movements. They were not organized by a political party. I’m sure conservative talk radio and the blogosphere played a role, and the participants were mostly self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives. But what is disappointing is that some people seem to think free people peaceably assembling to promote a cause is a bad thing just because they happen to disagree with the cause. Or at least, that’s the impression they convey.
People of both political persuasions are guilty. It seems like these days neither side has a corner on the sanctimony or snarkiness market.
So, if paying your taxes makes you feel patriotic, good for you. Seriously. I’m not there yet. I’d like to see at better accounting of how government at all levels is spending my money, and even though I know we have the lowest tax rates of any industrialized nation, I’m not a big proponent of sending in more (when I have some to send again), without that accounting.
And to you tea party folks, changing tax policy is hard. The “Fair Tax” rally that happened recently would scrap the entirety of the IRS and the tax code and replace it with a consumption (sales) tax. Many people say it’s regressive, and would hit people hardest who can least afford it. Ask any smoker, many of whom are in lower income brackets. Politicians of all stripes use federal, state, and local tax codes to shape society, and scrapping that code would take away their primary tool.
That’s going to be a tough sell no matter who you are.