My father was a self-employed lawyer. As such, he had to pay his taxes on a quarterly basis. So, every three months, he would take us children with him to the mailbox, and, as he put his check in the mailbox, he would say, “Remember that it is not just a duty but a privilege to pay the taxes that help run this country.” The mailbox was across the street from a public school located in a public park that had a public swimming pool and, in the winter, a public toboggan slide. The message was clear to all of us, and it has stuck with me all of my life that I am privileged to make enough money to be able to contribute, at least through my taxes, to the welfare of my community.
We are, today, faced with a massive reduction in services. Our roads are a mess. Funding is being slashed for schools from kindergarten to university. Public officials are being laid off or are seeing their net wages severely reduced. Health care is being cut. Environmental protection is being cut. Assistance to family farmers is being cut. There is not an area of community benefits that is not being signficantly affected by funding cuts. And, on top of all that, my state government is threatened with multi-billion dollar deficits that augur still more drastic cuts in the future.
Why? One simple answer: tax cuts. It has become fashionable, and in some circles absolutely mandatory, to provide tax cuts, particularly for those in higher tax brackets. The reason, we are told, is that these are the “job creators,” and the reductions we make in their tax bills will redound to the whole community in the form of jobs. It is an interesting and appealing argument, except for one thing: it doesn’t work. We have, in the years following the Great Bush Recession, watched what everyone acknowledges is a jobless recovery. The unemployment rate has gone down, but it has done so by people taking two and three and even four jobs, all for less pay and fewer benefits. The “job creators”, whatever else they may be doing, are not creating jobs. Meanwhile governments follow a pattern of limiting worker’s rights, reducing their own employees’ pay and benefits, and cutting community services to the bone and beyond.
We really need to return to a notion that was once a keystone for our communities. We are a community, and being a community requires us to provide communal benefits — good schools, good roads, good services and good pay. All those things cost money, and we owe it to ourselves as a community to pay for those things. It costs money to belong to a community, and we owe it to the community to pay our fair share. The only way we can do that is to set taxes at a level sufficient to pay for those benefits. Since we are clearly not doing that now, we need to raise our tax levels to make sure we can.
Granted, it is important that we make sure that the money given to public officials to provide those services is not squandered. We need to make sure that there are no thousand dollar toilet seats and five hundred dollar hammers. My miniscule experience with legislators in my state is that our legislators are good, honest people who are being as careful as they can about spending, and I am confident that the press is doing its best to be a watchdog over the conduct of government. It makes no sense, though, to throw the baby out with the bath, to restrict and eliminate essential community services in the name of economy. The word “economy” comes from a Greek word meaning household. It makes no sense to let your house fall down around you in the name of frugality. It equally makes no sense to strip government at every level of essential services in the name of saving money.
We want a good municipal, county, state and federal community. That costs money, and we all owe it. It’s time for us, for all of us, to return to the privilege of paying our fair share in taxes.

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