This week many of us took on the annual chore of filing our federal income tax return. Later this month property owners will pay their first real estate tax installment to the county. And, of course, there are the many other taxes we pay every day.
It’s not that I mind paying taxes. In fact, I believe that taxes are essential to providing the many governmental services we enjoy. And, when I reflect these services and their cost, I find our government, at all its levels, to be about the best bargain one could hope for.
You can make your own list of essential governmental services, beginning with education, security (local and national), a functioning justice system, and highways and transportation. My list also includes essential government role in protecting our precious common resources, clean air, water, parks and wildlands, wildlife and fisheries.
Yes, non-governmental or private services are sometimes available, but governmental services are often better. First, because they are basic, like the justice system or national defense. Second, because of built-in economies, the overall cost is lower when services are provided on a larger scale. Third, the government’s role is to protect the common good. Think review of medicines, for example, or securing safe drinking water.
Before I continue I’d like to share a simple formula: government = services = taxes.
Government provides services that are paid with taxes. They are necessarily linked: growth or reduction of in one means growth or reduction in the other two.
I wonder how popular the Taxed Enough Already (i.e. the T.E.A. Party) movement would have been had it been named Services Enough Already?
Many of our political leaders seem to have forgotten this basic insight. They are enamored with the notion of smaller government and, if not lower taxes, then no tax increases. But at the same time, they seem addicted to promising more and more services.
I imagine most of us like the idea of getting more and paying less. Who wouldn’t? And, likewise, few of us are in love with the proposition that we can have more from our government, but only if taxes are raised to pay for it.
It is any wonder that some many people feel frustrated and disgusted? Is there anyone in political leadership who will to tell us that we can’t have more and better – roads, school or whatever - unless we’re willing to pay for it?
This entire dynamic played out here in Thurston County just last week. As reported in The Olympian, the three county commissioners voted to rescind a $10 fee on owners of septic systems. The fee would have funded the county to better understand and manage over 40,000 private septic systems in the county (that is, would have made county government bigger by giving it more resources).
In Thurston County we get our drinking water from groundwater. And, on occasion, failing septic systems have negatively impacted nearby groundwater. Also, when these failing systems are near marine waters, they have negatively impacted shellfish beds. The commercial shellfish industry is an important economic force in our county.
There, in a nutshell, is the challenge. Do we, acting through our commissioners, act to protect the common good (groundwater and shellfish beds) by asking citizens to pay a small fee (tax) annually, or do we decide “enough of big government,” and do away with the program?
For my part, I believe that we should seek the guidance of our nation’s founders. At the end of the Declaration of Independence, having outlined both grievances and goals for a new nation, it states “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
We are the direct descendants of those signers; that document and its pledges are our birthright. Those fortunes are the taxes we pay, every day and in many ways, to insure we have a government that will not avoid its responsibilities. Rather, that government will act to protect and enhance the common good.
George Walter is the Nisqually Indian Tribe’s environmental program manager, and is a member of The Olympian’s 2017 Board of Contributors. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org