the results of extreme tax aversion

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The Denver Post wrote last Sunday that the "tax-averse" city of Colorado Springs "is about to learn what it looks and feels like when budget cuts slash services most Americans consider part of the urban fabric:"

More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops -- dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.

The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter. Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that. Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.

City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won't pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need.

At Pandagon, Amanda Marcotte identified the faulty political ideology behind the problem, writing that "Colorado Springs isn't just in the grip of the fallacy that you can have services without taxes, but also that you can have a tax base without having a population that makes enough money to pay taxes." She quotes this passage from the DP article:

Community business leaders [are] questioning city spending on what they see as "Ferrari"-level benefits for employees and high salaries in middle management. Broadmoor luxury resort chief executive Steve Bartolin wrote an open letter asking why the city spends $89,000 per employee, when his enterprise has a similar number of workers and spends only $24,000 on each.

and then comments, "We all hope you can see the irony---Bartolini [sic] is part of the problem:"

By paying his employees so little they can barely afford food and rent, he's basically choking off a revenue stream into the city, because they aren't paying that much taxes. If his people could afford to do things like buy property, they'd pay property tax that the city could use to pay its lighting bill. But here's Bartolini [sic], who is a huge part of the problem, complaining because some people out there aren't starving to death, and starving the government while they're at it. Why is he complaining? Presumably, a government that's falling apart is what he wants.

This reminded me very strongly of the piece "It's Not Your Money" by Ian Walsh (h/t: Corrente) that I read a few weeks ago:

We'll start with two numbers. The income per capita for the US in 2005 was $43,740. The income per capita for Bangladesh was $470. [...] ...being American is worth $43,270 more than being Bengali and it's not due to Americans being superior human beings. If it isn't because Americans are superior, then what is it?

The answer is that if it isn't individual, it must be social. [...] ...the vast majority of money that an American earns is due to being born an American. Certainly the qualities that make America a good place to live and a good place to make money are things that were created by Americans, but mostly they were created by Americans long dead or they are created by all Americans working together and are not located in the individual. [...] So, if you're American, a large chunk of the reason you make a lot of money (relative to the rest of the world) is that you are American. [...]

So let's bring this back to our typical Libertarian with his whine that he earned it, and the government shouldn't take it away. He didn't earn most of it. Most of it is just because in global terms, he was born on third and thinks he hit a triple. That doesn't mean he doesn't have to work for it, but it does mean most of the value of his work has nothing to do with him (and Ayn Rand aside, it's almost always a him).


Since the majority of the money any American earns is a function of being American, not of their own individual virtues, the government has the moral right to tax. [...] More importantly than the moral right, it has the pragmatic duty to do so. The roads and bridges that government builds and maintains; the schools that it funds, the police and courts that keep the peace; the investment in R&D that produced the internet; the sewage systems that make real estate speculation possible, and on and on, are a huge chunk of what makes being American worth so much more than being a Bengali. Failure to reinvest in both human and inanimate infrastructure is like killing the golden goose, and America, for decades now, has not been keeping its infrastructure properly maintained, let alone building it up.

"Lower taxes" may be a great bumper-sticker, but it's clearly insufficient as a political philosophy. For some more details on the cutbacks, see the back-and-forth between Colorado Springs councilperson Sean Paige and journalist David Sirota at HuffPo.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on February 8, 2010 2:18 PM.

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