Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Taxes Fund Education & Other Services That We All Use

To my fellow Kansans:

Taxes – a word that generates loathing among many; at best it’s often portrayed as a necessary evil. George Lakoff, linguist and UC Berkeley professor, has pointed out that politicians like to promise us “relief” from taxes, as if they’re providing relief from a headache. But that relief comes with the price of cutting our services and benefits.

Taxes fund our police and fire departments, parks, public libraries, armed forces, and the list goes on. Particularly important is public education, one of the bedrocks of U.S. democracy. Every time we cut taxes we degrade the quality of these services. “Taxes, after all,” as Franklin D. Roosevelt stated, “are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society.”

While we Americans subscribe to the ideal of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, we never-the-less are social creatures. We live in large groups, relying on others for many of our needs. We don’t build or maintain our own roads, we have but to turn on a faucet for good quality water, and most of us don’t school our own children. This pooling of resources and the resulting services and benefits (and jobs) provided, are part of our written and unwritten norms; they help bind our society together.

To be sure, balance must be maintained between inadequate vs. overbearing taxation. However, our state has generally moved farther into the inadequate side over the last decade. During that time, according to Rep. Jim Ward, our legislature has cut taxes by $12 billion, with an additional $4 billion in sales tax exemptions.

Yet many in the legislature refuse to consider that additional revenues are required to maintain needed services and benefits. Instead we are to rely on additional cuts and a reduction of state employee salaries and benefits. And since the majority of our state’s budget goes to education and social services, you can see where the brunt of the burden will fall – squarely on the backs of those with the least say.

Whether tax cuts and exemptions generate jobs is debatable. At best it’s a highly contextual outcome dependent on a mix of factors – social/cultural, economic, and otherwise. What isn’t debatable, however, is the job loss resulting from continued cuts and exemptions. According to a February 28th Wichita Eagle article, Wichita estimates it would cut 320 full-time education positions. And tragically such scenarios are being repeated all over the state.

As a Kansan, I’m willing to pay for the service of quality education for my children and for my neighbors’ children. I’m willing to pay for the benefit of higher property values resulting from having good quality neighborhood schools. And the last decade of cuts and exemptions surely has allowed for revenue generation that distributes the burden fairly across the state relative to income, and minimizes negative impacts on business creation and growth. If you feel the same, I urge you to contact your legislators with this message – otherwise we’re putting our state’s future, and that of our children, at risk.