Monday, August 25, 2014

Deep in the Heart of Taxes. Sorry.

There are lots of silly things that show up on the Internet. This blog, for instance. But I like to think that I, at least, bring some thought and analysis to the things I write, unlike many of the things that are driven by brainless passion for a specific political position or religious belief.

I call your attention, Dear Readers, to an item that's been going around on Facebook, designed to drive every red-blooded American crazy: A List Of 97 Taxes Americans Pay Every Year.

I have written many times in this space on the subject of taxes, which I dislike paying as much as anyone else. I understand, however, that taxes are a sad but necessary part of citizenship ... the burden we share in paying for a government that provides the services we have come to expect. If it weren’t for taxes, after all, how would the government function? If you believe that Americans would be lining up to volunteer their time and money to build roads and bridges, teach school, and make sure public utilities are available, then I have some prime swamp land in Florida and a bridge in New York to sell you.

Want to get someone really mad? Come up with something like "a list of 97 taxes Americans pay every year." And then trust that no one will really read the list and think about it.

I read the list. And I thought about it. And I got really mad. But not for the reasons you might think.

It is perfectly clear that we pay lots of different fees and taxes which are imposed at every level from the Federal government on down. Governments need the money to pay for the things they do just like we need money to buy food, clothing, shelter, health care, pornography, etc. I get that. But the “list of 97 taxes” implies that it’s a list of 97 separate taxes that burden every single American.

The trouble is, it ain’t so.

A quick look at the list suggests a few observations:

- First of all, you can significantly reduce the list by combining things that are the same, but have different names (Garbage Tax and Waste Management Tax; and Highway Access Fees, Toll Booth Taxes, and Tolls come to mind).

- A Cigarette Tax doesn’t affect you if you don’t smoke, and a Liquor Tax doesn’t affect you if you don’t drink. And to the extent that they encourage people to smoke or drink less*, it might be argued that they are actually beneficial by reducing the cost of health care for everyone else.

- Garbage Taxes, Waste Management Taxes, and Hazardous Material Disposal Fees. Onerous? Perhaps. But how else do you propose to pay for the facilities to safely dispose of your trash and your hazardous waste? And if you live in an area where the Big Bad Government isn’t taxing you to do this … does the company that picks up your garbage do it for free out of the goodness of their community-minded hearts?

- Sewer and Water Taxes. I suppose you don’t need to pay these if you don’t need or want clean water, or if you’re willing to dig a latrine or build an outhouse in your back yard, or manage your own septic tank. And why is it wrong to ask industries that pollute the water you drink to pay for helping to clean it up?

- Highway Access Fees, Tolls, Gasoline Taxes, and Interstate User Diesel Fuel Taxes. A pain, to be sure. But how else do you propose to raise the money to build and maintain roads and bridges? Perhaps the "Adopt a Highway" program could be made mandatory and include the responsibility for paving and pothole repair along with picking up trash.

And …

- Passport Fees. The last time I looked, nobody was forcing anyone to travel abroad. If you don’t leave the country, you don’t need a passport and don’t need to pay the fee. If you do need to travel abroad, why should I pay the cost of issuing you a passport? What’s your problem?

Now, to be fair about it, there are some fees and taxes on the list that tend to piss me off:

- Sports Stadium Taxes. If a major league sports team wants a new stadium, they should fund it themselves. I don’t see it as my job to sweeten the deal for a team whose owners are multi-millionaires and whose members probably make more than I do. And don’t forget that on top of those taxes that were levied or bonds that were issued to build the stadium, you’ll also pay a gazillion dollars for tickets to see the games played there, and about $8.00 for a hot dog.

- Air Transportation Taxes. These are way out of control. I wrote in this blog some time back about the difference between the airfare the airlines quote you - which is often not “cheap,” but “reasonable” – and the final price that goes on your credit card, in which the accumulated taxes and fees often double the cost of your trip. This is insane. And combine that with ...

- Hotel Taxes. These are also way out of control, and usually consist of three or four separate taxes on the same room charge: a sales tax, a hotel tax, an occupancy tax, and a tourism tax, to name a few. They can easily add hundreds of dollars to a vacation hotel bill.

So what’s my point?

The article that railed about the “97 Taxes Americans Pay” is stupid. People who read it without thinking, get spun up, and post it on Facebook or elsewhere and rail about robbery by the Big Bad Government are stupid, too. Nobody likes taxes. But before you scream about them, consider the things they pay for, and how you propose to pay for those things without them. Just what services and activities we want to pay for with those taxes, and how high the level of taxation ought to be to pay for them, is a matter for calm and rational discussion … but just screaming bloody murder about evil taxes does nothing except make you look like an idiot.

Okay, end of screed.

Have a good day. Don’t overtax yourself. More thoughts tomorrow.


* And don't whine about the Nanny State. If your bad habits impose costs on me, I have no problem with taxing you to bear the cost of your bad choices.


Insane Penguin said...

Hotel taxes are really just sticking it to the out-of-town visitors. At least they haven't taxed your kin for staying in your home with you.

eViL pOp TaRt said...

The air transport taxes are hidden on some airline's web sites until you are about to make the purchase. Gee, I didn't have that good a time getting inspected (oops, checked) by my TSA rep.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

At least they don't license cats.

Duckbutt said...

There's also the French and Spanish syntaxes.

You make a serious point, though. I don't mind paying for my water, but let's us not have taxes on booze.

Linda Kay said...

Our city just announced that it will be reducing our real estate taxes, because they now have so much tax from the B & Bs and the sales tax. I like this!

Big Sky Heidi said...

But there's the voluntary tax on stupidity paid by people who bet more than trivial amounts on state lotteries.

Mike said...

Most taxes are just the purchase price for public services.