Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tax Day 2011

Yes, I realize tax day was this past Monday. My Small Town Newspaper column for that day was about Tax Day and paying taxes. I didn't link to it here, though, because the online comments are ferocious. I knew they would be, so instead of drawing shameful attention to a handful of Small Town meanies who think that calling me "stupid" and saying I write "drivel" is fair substitute for reasonable debate, I have decided to finally post my column here. I stand by my opinion on this subject, call me what you will.


Will Rogers said, “If you make any money, the government shoves you in the creek once a year with it in your pockets, and all that don't get wet you can keep.” Even as a supporter of President Roosevelt and the New Deal, the humorist was quick to poke fun at taxes in an era when rates were nearly twice what they are today.

Well, whether you’re one to support federal programs or one to believe you’re being soaked by them—wrung dry after being shoved into the creek—it’s time to pay up. Today, regardless of your political persuasion, is Tax Day.

I have been paying taxes since I took my first job at the age of 18, but I never bothered to break down how my contributions were being spent, and I suspect I’m not alone.

In March, CNN conducted a poll that revealed most of us are a little foggy with the details of government spending. Respondents were asked to guess the percentage the federal government spends on specific areas, and while most people weren’t far off on the large-ticket items, the median response suggested we spend 10 percent on foreign aid, 10 percent on education and 5 percent on NPR; when we actually spend 1 percent, 3 percent and .001 percent respectively on these programs.

So, I have done some digging and discovered where my money is going. In simplified pie-chart terms, federal taxes are divvied up into one-fifth slices. Roughly, we spend one-fifth on national security, one-fifth on Medicare and Medicaid, one-fifth on social security, one-fifth on safety-net programs and national debt and one-fifth on “other.” That catchall category includes things like veterans’ benefits, medical research, infrastructure and education.

If you file based on the median household income—in Ohio, that’s $45,395—you’ll pitch in just over $975 each for all the heftier programs. On top of that, you’ll contribute a little bit here and there to things like agriculture, the space program, environmental protection and scientific research.

The majority of Americans thinks their tax bills are fair, according to a recent AP poll, which is not to say the rest necessarily think they pay too much. The group Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength have written to the president urging him to allow their tax cuts to expire. “Now, during our nation’s moment of need, we are eager to do our fair share,” they told him.

I side with the majority in this case because I enjoy the benefits of a well-developed civilization. For example, I feel relatively safe within our borders because I live in a country with a powerful defense program.

Through federal withholdings, I know that I am contributing to the welfare of those in need today; and in the future when I am elderly or severely disabled, I’ll receive some financial assistance as well. Granted, maintaining funds for the programs is an increasingly difficult puzzle to solve, but I am proud to live in a country that is working to safeguard them.

Because of taxes, I benefit from drivable interstate highways and structurally sound bridges. I am fairly certain the water I drink is safe, the air I breathe is clean and the food I buy is free of contaminants. My contributions help provide funds for veterans who have protected me in the past, for medical research that may spare me from suffering in the future and for a cohesive educational system that continuously strives to benefit my entire nation in the present.

“Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for,” said Rogers with tongue in cheek. What we’re paying for can certainly be managed more sustainably. What we’re paying for may not always suit each of us as we argue over the ideal scope of federal government. But I’ll take what we’re paying for, even in its cumbersome and imperfect state, over a nation devoid of benefits for its citizens any day.

There’s no arguing the problem of our mounting debt must be solved, and we could stand for our legislators to develop a budget through less politicking and more intelligent debating. But when we get down to business, I believe that on the whole, our daily lives are made better by the funds collected on tax day.


dive said...

Your commenters make Sarah Palin look like an intellectual giant, Robyn. Sheesh! I despair for the poor ol' US of A, I really do.

Shan said...

I never mind paying taxes either but sometimes I wonder why so few of us do pay them. I think I heard recently that only 50 % of our pop. pays taxes. How are we supposed to afford everyone who doesn't? Scary times indeed.

Shannon and Paul said...

Nicely done, Robyn. People want to live in a nice country, but they don't want to pay for it and I just don't see the logic in that.