Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday Rant

Today is tax day in the United States. All taxes from last year are due today.

It is also the day quarterly taxes for the current year are due if you pay estimated taxes. Small business owners are likely to do this.

In the last presidential election, there was a lot of talk about how half of the country (it's really about 46 percent) doesn't pay federal taxes. The talk never centered on the reason why these folks don't pay federal taxes.

It's because they are too poor. These are low-income folks, many of whom are elderly (remember, we're an aging population). They're the people who work for minimum wage at fast food places, in retail, and other service jobs. They are the backbone of the country and the tax rate is structured to keep them from being burdened with taxes. Otherwise they wouldn't be able to eat.

It is worth noting that tax cuts enacted under the Bush administration - under a Republican president - also reduced the tax burden on people who probably could afford it. Those cuts increased child tax credits, earned income credits, and increased deductions and other exemptions. All of that had the effect of increasing the number of people who pay minimal taxes.

However, very few people pay no taxes. There are state taxes, local taxes, food taxes, gas taxes, and no end of fees out there. I don't see how anybody can escape them entirely.

In Sunday's edition of Parade, they ran their annual "What People Earn" article. The thing I always find most striking about these articles is what it reveals about what we value as a society. We value entertainment more than public safety, for example. Sports over national security. If we didn't, then the paychecks would reflect different priorities. It also indicates that different areas of the country have different value systems.

Matthew McConaheghey earns $19 million. An assistant to the mayor in Seattle earns $80,000. A fire chief in Utah makes $110,000. Here locally, our county administrator makes about $132,000 (that's not in the article, that's just something I know). A library director in West Virginia makes $8,840. A stadium beer vendor in Pennsylvania makes $12,000. Vice President Joe Biden makes $230,700. A Montessori teacher in Idaho earns $26,000. A firefighter in Indiana earns $52,000. A mental health counselor in New Mexico earns $31,200.

Does it not concern you that 46 percent of the people in this country are too poor to pay taxes? Shouldn't that give you pause? Shouldn't we, en masse, as a society, stop and reexamine our value system?

Is this healthy? You can't expect the disabled or the elderly to get out and work harder. You can't expect the low income-earner to do better when there aren't jobs out there. We've reached a point where people simply have no upward mobility because the jobs aren't there. You can't go from flipping burgers to a nice union job at the Ford Motor Company anymore. Those higher paying jobs in production have vanished, sent overseas or done away with because a robot can turn a screw.

I have a little house that I rent out. I have figured out that in order for someone to live there and be comfortable, they really need an income of about $36,500.  That's one person. That's well above the poverty level in this country, but I think that should be the bottom line. That's $100 a day to eat, pay rent, put gas in the car, pay for heat and electricity, and pay taxes. Maybe on that $36,500 you could go out to eat once in a while. I would consider this amount to be a living wage.

The inequality of salary and our declining value system, the one that puts going to the movies or watching sport over having the house fire put out or health care issues taken care of, concern me more than any other issue taking place in this land. I think there are solutions available for this problem that would solve other problems, too.

For example, what if there was a program that trained young men how to solarize a home? What if every household became a more green environment? That's a lot of jobs in construction right there. What if we each had a windmill?

Our infrastructure is failing. The electric grid needs work. Roads are falling apart. There is a lot of work to do and little will to fund it. What would make you happier, paying a little more in taxes so a road can be repaired, or having the road repaired by some big corporation that then charges you a $2 toll every time you go through it? Aren't you still paying for it either way?

What if we built more hospitals, trained more nurses and doctors, and had the health care that would truly make the United States the most enviable country in the world when it came to taking care of its citizens?

What would happen, do you think, if we put people over profits? What if we tried to become the happiest country on earth instead of the richest?

Virginia is often rated high as a "great state for business." It always irks me because I don't want to live in a great state for business. I want to live in a great state - a great nation - for people. I want this country to be the best that it can be, and that means it puts people - you, and you, and me - first.

Not the Koch brothers, not Exxon, not Monsanto. But us, We the People of the United States, who long ago joined together to create a more perfect union.

If we do not change this, if we do not once again come together as a society that cares about one another, that sees inequality and does something about it, then this grand experiment is over, and we have failed.

Pay your taxes today, and be grateful that you earn enough to have to write the check. There are an awful lot of people out there who do not have that opportunity. They are not lazy, they are not slobs, they are not objects of derision. They are people who work just as hard as you do, but maybe have had a little less luck or fewer opportunities.

In a blink of an eye, that person could be you. All it takes is one car wreck, one house fire, one heart attack, one lawsuit. And you'd better damn well not forget it.

3 comments:

  1. You had me really smelling my coffee this morning and your right .
    It seems the solution now that we have dug ourselves into a hole as a once "super power ~ gone broke "
    doesn't seem like an easy road for politicians to switch gears away from wanting to still be the big gun rather than the society that takes care of their citizens well . A bit catch 22 and scary isn't it.
    We I suppose ,really need to focus on "we the people".

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  2. psst ~ and look at that you got me discussing politics , something I rarely do . lol

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  3. What an excellent article. Over here, another part of the problem is that people won't talk about taxes - the assumption is that they are bad and that people who dodge them are only: "Doing what everyone else would do if they could." And a lot of people are indeed dodging taxes, people who can more than afford to pay them, but who would rather pay accountants to find sneaky way to evade them. A rich man's cleaner can end up paying more than he (as one government minister admitted about his own cleaner). Meanwhile globalised companies arrange their affairs so that they too pay as little as they can (and claim a higher duty to shareholders than to the community at large - though it is the community at large, to which their shareholders belong, which suffers). We seem to have a culture which applauds selfish people who shirk their responsibility to society.

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