--Anne-Robert Jacques Turgot
It is tax time again.
Less than a week to go before most of us will carry out that most civic and most slandered of civic acts: paying taxes. Come April 15th 136,000,000 or so Americans will meet their legal obligation to pay some $1,042,000,000,000 in federal income taxes (more than 1 trillion dollars!); 3,171,000 Massachusetts taxpayers will pay approximately $11,933,400,000 in state income taxes.
That’s a lot of money. A lot of taxes.
These numbers don’t include the other taxes we pay too: “sin” taxes (alcohol, cigarettes, etc.), corporate taxes, property taxes and the sales tax. There are more exotic taxes too: on the cars we rent, the plane tickets we buy, and the hotel rooms we sleep in. Is there anything not taxed? As the Beatles 1966 song “Taxman” proclaimed, “If you drive a car, I'll tax the street; If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat; If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat; If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet; ‘cuz I’m the taxman.”
Taxes—we’ll pay and we’ll complain. Loudly. Rant, rave, and protest. Some will call themselves “patriots” as they kvetch about how awful all these taxes are. How unfair, and odious, burdensome and “un-American”.
If there’s one civic punching bag Americans love to pummel even more than the government, it is that same government’s authority to tax. Yet…I just can’t hate taxes. I can’t do it, even as I mail in my tax returns, even as I see a big chunk of all my hard earned money going away to Washington and Beacon Hill. For you see I always come back to the people I know who are directly helped by and through the payment of my taxes, our taxes. On April 15th I remember how taxes actually benefit me and my loved ones and my community and nation so much.
There’s my grandfather and mother who are well cared for by Medicare. My neighbor who was transported to the hospital by the local fire department when an emergency struck. My friends whose house caught fire. A 911 cal and the police and firefighters were there in minutes. The University of Massachusetts, the school I proudly call my alma mater: if not for the taxes which support that school and underwrote my loans, I never could have attended. I think of my friend the army chaplain who cares for his soldiers in such an amazing way. Or the relative saved from life on the streets by extended unemployment benefits and Mass Health Care. My Dad who was the first in his family to get a Masters degree because of Uncle Sam and the GI bill. The prisoners I work with at the Norfolk County Jail receiving treatment for their drug addictions. Taxes underwrite the hope that when they are released they’ll stay out of trouble and be clean and sober.
All programs funded by taxes. All people directly served by taxation. No taxes? No government services. No national defense. No first responders. No Head Start or food stamps or senior housing or health care for the poor and the elderly.
Every American could easily write a very, very, very long list of all the ways the paying of taxes makes life better, safer, gentler, and healthier. It’s just that when we get all self-righteous about taxes, especially around the 15th, we tend to forget. We suffer from civic amnesia.
Like taxes. Hate taxes. The choice is ours’. But there is no ignoring one absolute truth: taxes directly benefit millions of us every single day.
So I will pay my taxes. Try to pay my fair share. Pay because as a citizen and a “patriot” that is my duty. My obligation. My responsibility. It is my “rent” in a way, for being blessed by God, lucky enough, to call this great country and this great state my home. I pay taxes because I am grateful for all the ways my government serves my family, friends, neighbors and strangers, especially the ones who are in need.
Let the choruses of tax griping begin. Sing right along but remember… taxes are an integral part of what it means to live in community, and to be responsible for, and with and to each other.
See you at the post office on the 15th.