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In defense of taxes


A friend was standing in a very long line at the lone driver's license office in Colorado Springs, waiting to get a number to stand in another line. A man in front of her complained loudly to anyone who might listen that the wait was "ridiculous."

My friend, an elegant and thoughtful Republican woman, said simply, "Well, this is what we get as service after TABOR and tax cuts." The man thought for a moment and said, "I never thought about it that way."

Indeed, few taxpayers ever think about what taxes do and what they represent. Wanna-be politicians like Pete Coors and Douglas Bruce don't help with their constant anti-tax campaign messages. They simplify the message to appeal to a childlike intellect, and the public eats it up.

Truth is, it is our taxes that have a great deal to do with our ability to become wealthy in the first place. Public education, for instance, enables us to secure and perform work above the level of menial labor. Public roadways enable manufacturers to get products to market, as do government-run systems for air traffic control, railway transportation and shipping ports.

The United States has one of the finest healthcare systems in the world, in part because the government is willing to fund medical research at universities and to extend low-interest loans to medical students and nursing students.

We walk on our city streets at night with little fear of being mugged because we pay for a fine police force, adequately compensated so that they are immunized to corruption. When our forests were burning two summers ago, many homes were saved by the actions of state and federally paid smoke jumpers and firefighters.

Our town is extremely dependent on taxpayers -- all our military families live, essentially, at the tolerance of the productive segment of U.S. workers. Military personnel do not create wealth, but we spend our tax dollars in hopes that they will protect it from attack.

We don't always like the ways our tax dollars are spent. We may rail against a government grant to an artist who makes a sculpture we find repulsive. We may scoff at money used to pay the heating bill of so-called "welfare mothers."

But the truth is, far more of our tax dollars are slotted into the narrow and self-serving interests of corporate America in the form of special favors, from our local subsidization of the home-building industry to the federal subsidization of weapons-system manufacturers and corporations like Halliburton.

Even so, our government and our representatives do a fairly good job of balancing the broad interests of society and serving us all. Some may not like so much military spending; others consider it essential and want more. Some may not feel the nation should support symphonies and arts programs; others consider such public support essential to perpetuating American culture. All in all, I contend we get good value for our tax dollars.

I liken taxes to the money I spend on my home. If my roof leaks, I fix it. I renovate worn out floors, I plant trees and spend money on lawn fertilizer and weed killer. I spend the money knowing that if I don't, my house will fall into disrepair and lose value and personal satisfaction. I pay out of pride.

Clearly, a slumlord like Bruce can't comprehend this analogy, but most of us can. As Americans, we pay a smaller proportion of our considerable incomes on taxes than people in other advanced industrial countries. If we want quality services, an adequate infrastructure, an educated work force to manage our businesses and create better mousetraps to keep the U.S. competitive, we need to stop this anti-tax mania.

I said as much to a young man who was sitting outside of a downtown bar wailing about all the taxes he pays. He was on a public street, under publicly paid for street lights, drinking a cocktail made with ice from a publicly owned utilities company and, if he drove home, he could at least hope that the drunk next to him would be stopped and arrested by publicly paid for police. I doubt he'd have preferred the alternative of sitting on an unlit dirt road drinking fetid water and taking his chances with drunk drivers -- just so he could get a break on his tax bill. But, he never thought of it that way.

Gavin Ehringer is a writer and photographer and 24-year resident of Colorado Springs.

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