Taxes. The ugly step child of our Republic. Both political sides share parenting and are responsible for its well-being, but no one wants to admit that taxes are part of either gene pool. The line between what is the right amount of tax and what is too much is as blurry and contested as the Toledo Strip that divided Ohioans from those nasty wolverines to the north who called themselves Michiganders. Blood is shed over the disagreement.
If a politician wants to get elected they promise to lower taxes and even if the truth demands that taxes are insufficient, any promise to raise them will guarantee defeat. Remember Walter Mondale in 1984? Or George Bush Sr., who promised not to raise them, was elected on that promise, then raised them out of necessity, and then lost his bid for re-election? Above all other issues, taxes are the straightest line between victory and defeat.
So…what are they for? Who benefits? What is necessary? What isn’t? What is the right amount? Are you paying too much? Or…God forbid, too little?
The clearest illustration is probably on a local level and the tax that most directly affects the services we require (or don’t, depending on your status) is Property Tax. Here in Black Hawk County about 18% of a property owner’s taxes goes to the county. 38% goes to public schools, 38% to the city budgets, and 22% is split between Hawkeye Community College and university extensions.
The average property tax in Black Hawk County is $1717 but, to clarify our expenses, let’s round that up to $2000. $360 will go to Black Hawk County, $760 goes to schools, and another $760 to the city.
And what is the county providing that requires $360 from you every year?
-It goes to the county home, Country View, with 150 residents, 25% of whom are severely handicapped and have no means of support from family or personal finances.
-The Health Department budget uses the money to inspect all public food dispensers, nursing homes, schools, and restaurants to protect us from conditions that lead to food poisoning. They manage every school nurse, monitor communicable diseases (and STDs), and engineer the removal of hazards and provide emergency operation plans for any outbreak. The Health Department protects all of us, and particularly our children.
-The Sheriff’s Office is funded. 276 beds are maintained in Black Hawk County jails, where nearly 40% of the occupants have been diagnosed as mentally ill. Substance abuse issues raise that percentage to nearly 70%. The Sheriff’s office patrols the incorporated areas of the county, assists all municipal law enforcement, and maintains training for local and regional law enforcement.
-It goes to Conservation. The county manages over 8000 acres of land, with 5 campgrounds, 2 shooting ranges, our extensive bike trails, and the Hartman Reserve. Our quality of life relies heavily on the conservation of these acres.
-And it goes to Veterans Affairs. Black Hawk County supports nearly 20,000 veterans with transportation, medical support and housing for those who would be homeless.
-Additionally, and most importantly from an economic standpoint, the county maintains the 765 miles of roads that we depend on, with 273 bridges. Half a billion dollars of produce are moved to market, annually, on our roads and over our bridges. That is the life’s blood of our economy.
Add to these services other maintenance, civil services, emergency management, the medical examiner, juvenile court services, social services for the impoverished and mentally ill, the county auditor, solid waste management, district court administration, the county recorder, code enforcement, and emergency 911 services…
Is all that necessary? You can decide that for yourself, but not one thing listed here should be considered an extravagance when compared to what is provided and what the benefit to all of us can be.
Property tax, obviously, is only a piece of the “tax” equation. We also pay state and federal taxes (and of course, regressive taxes like sales tax). But the breakdown is not dissimilar to the county “pie.” On average, Americans pay just over 26% of their total income in taxes, including state, federal, and property. To put that in perspective: a little over a quarter of every dollar.
A quarter of a dollar to pay for our national defense and security, roads and bridges for commerce, educating our children, providing health services, support for the veterans who deserve our help, for senior citizens and disabled Americans, for disaster relief, disease control and research, for our system of justice and the enforcement of law and order in our civilized society.
Is that too much?
Of COURSE, we need to hold government on every level accountable. Of COURSE we should look for redundancies and inefficiencies. Of COURSE, we should adapt, re-organize and reconsider local, state and federal budgets as our needs and safeguards change or evolve. But, MAYBE…we should also consider, every bit as diligently, WHO is paying.
I pay 27%. Poor Americans pay less….and many rich Americans pay an even lower percentage. Much lower. Much, much, lower. So much lower. A yuuuge amount lower.
The point of this article is not to say that we should ignore or be less concerned about our taxes, but it is to suggest that “TAXES” are not the evil menace that should be determining our elections. When we look at what we get, for what we pay; even at what may go to some who others feel are undeserving (or “lazy”), the conversation should, at least, be based in rational evidence rather than emotional hyperbole.
THAT might even be the better way to reduce tax burdens.