Everyone has an opinion on taxes, as readers’ reactions to one of my recent columns revealed. But you have the power to do something about it — get educated, write a check, ring doorbells and vote, or write to council members and legislators.
Tax policy is a jumble of questions that mix the philosophical and the practical. What is the proper role of government? What percentage should a family of four with X income pay if condition A, B, or C applies?
Readers had a lot to say about all that in response to a column I wrote that criticized our state’s regressive, inefficient tax system and suggested an income tax would improve revenue flow and fairness.
Everyone has opinions, mostly ones that start in the gut and wind their way to the lips sometimes with a brief stop at the brain. None of us is entirely logical about taxes.
What matters is that we agree enough on the big philosophical questions to allow for reasonable debate on the technical aspects of taxation. We’re not close to that.
Trust was at the forefront of most of your concerns. It’s one of the big questions.
“Jerry — you are correct, our tax system hits the poorer people the hardest,” J. Paul Everett wrote. “BUT, NOBODY should trust the legislature with an income tax. Ever!!” He fears that without built-in restraints, spending would run rampant.
He also mentioned education spending. The Legislature has been struggling to find enough money to fully fund schools, but Everett said in his email that “the real problem is the terrible inefficiencies of our school system that produce lousy results.” He’s willing to pay more to help kids in poor districts, but he’d like to know the money was going to be spent wisely. That’s reasonable, of course.
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Mark Rosencrantz wrote that he and I “disagree on nearly all of what you wrote in your column …” He said Seattle, King County and Washington want more money to waste. He cited the Seattle bike-share experience, which came up often in reactions.
The bike-share system, Pronto, started up with a mix of private and government money three years ago but couldn’t get traction. Pronto went broke, and the city bought it last year for $1.4 million. The bikes kept sitting, so Seattle shut Pronto down at the end of March. It didn’t help that the city’s transportation director used to work for Pronto’s parent company.
Ride-sharing works in some cities. I took advantage of one system to do some touring in San Antonio last spring. The city is relatively flat and sunny, and I mostly kept to bicycle paths. I never gave a thought to trying to tackle Seattle’s hills, in traffic, in the rain.
I’m not a fan of everything that various governments do, but I do like parks and libraries and streets that don’t swallow cars (we could use more of those). Education is vital. Financially strangling schools is no substitute for fixing what’s not working well.
Another reader mentioned spending to combat homelessness as an example of waste. The region is grappling with making its approach to homelessness more effective. But we’d have less of a problem if we put more money into programs that work well to support families and individuals who could become homeless without help — programs that aid children and new parents, give people a hand finding work, or dealing with addiction or mental-health conditions.
Bad examples of government inefficiency or waste stick in our minds. Sometimes we have to make more of an effort to remember the necessary and the good.
One of my go-to examples of effective government is the Nurse-Family Partnership, in which nurses are paired with young first-time mothers and help them help their children in the early years.
Many analyses have found significant differences between participant families and demographically similar ones who haven’t participated. Women in the program have fewer children. Children do better in school and are much less likely to get into trouble as teenagers. As a community, we pay a little, but benefit a lot.
Government waste and poor choices ought to make us as citizens and taxpayers angry, and we should express that anger by getting involved in choosing who gets to make and carry out public policy. Get educated, then write a check, ring doorbells and vote. Write to council members and legislators.
Paying taxes isn’t the only civic duty we have. We can have a say in how those dollars are spent, especially at the local level.