Don’t Automatically Hate Taxes

Listen to the Story

Recently, I was watching one of my favorite old movies, Adam’s Rib starring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. Near the end of the movie, they are working on their tax return with an accountant. They are in such a hurry to leave that Kate’s character says something like, just pay whatever it takes we love to pay taxes!

Even in the 1950′s I am sure most Americans were not as giddy about taxes as Ms. Hepburn was, but that line always makes me laugh. I also laugh when political candidates pull out that old chestnut about promising not to raise taxes. But are taxes really the scourge we make them out to be? Before you start yelling at the radio consider this:

I look at our government’s budget like my own household budget. I have a certain amount of revenue coming in and a certain amount going out for expenses.

I could do what President Bush suggested when we got our tax rebate–spend money like a true patriot. How about getting a flashy car and a house that I cannot afford to jumpstart the economy? Next, my neighbor needs my help to buy a snow blower for our community snow defense project, so I kick some cash in. And the kid down the street needs me to buy candy to benefit the school band and well I guess you get the point. Now I am seriously into deficit spending and the republic of Jerolyn needs to borrow money from a foreign neighbor or—raise taxes.

It is easy to see that with all the demands we make on local, state and federal government, how can it run without tax revenue? Our tax dollars not only support our military, schools, fire and police protection, road and bridge construction they also provide support for the arts, day care subsidies so low-income mothers can work, and a host of programs and services most of us take for granted.

The problem is that we cannot agree on what government services are important. You may say let the moms stay home with their kids to save the daycare subsidy, but who is going to serve your greasy burgers and chili fries? Forget about tax support for the arts. But what happens when the mayor tries to attract that new company with 2,000 new jobs to our city and the only cultural activity we have to offer is cable TV?

Our economy is in a shambles and the answer from the Republicans is to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. And the Democrats are promising tax relief to the middle class. Nevertheless, some one has to put money into the kitty to help reduce government debt and fuel public investment that will drive private sector growth.

Sure, we have to hold our public servants accountable on how our tax money is used. However, we cannot get out of our current economic mess with quick fixes like tax rebates and lower corporate taxes. A comprehensive overhaul of our tax policy needs happen under the next president’s watch–policies that not only encourages business investment, but also provide tax relief to middle class families.

Life is not like the movies. We may not love to pay taxes. But we have to press our leaders for answers longer than a read my lips no new taxes sound byte. We have to find a way to strike a balance between investment, growth –and tax relief.

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