Driving County Roads

An on line journal sharing my views. The content reflects my background as a rural person employed in agriculture and as a retired elected official of local government.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Privilege of Paying Taxes

If today weren’t Sunday, it would be the deadline day for paying income taxes. United States citizens are doing the math to determine our taxes owed for last year or we are filling out the forms in anticipation of a return. County property tax statements have been received and county and city boards of review (which deal with valuations, not taxes) are being held. The Minnesota legislature is talking about taxes. The issue of taxes is really “out there” at this time. Most of the time we speak with disgust about paying taxes and we might yearn to live in a country where we did not have this obligation. Like many thoughts and desires, this one has a very big devil in the detail.

According to Thomas Friedman’s book, “The World is Flat”; countries that have an abundance of rich natural resources like gold or oil – never have to tax their people. As a result, a democratic society is retarded. As long as a ruler or ruling class can control the natural resources, they can control the instruments of power like the army, the police, and intelligence. This control means they never have to share power and a distorted relationship between the citizens and the rulers is developed. They never have to tax their people; nor do they have to pay attention to them or explain how they are spending their money. They are not spending money raised through taxes so there is no accountability. As Friedman states, “Without taxation, there is no representation.”

I for one am glad to live in a country where I can pay taxes. Granted, most of us do not enjoy paying taxes; but I think most of us are willing to pay taxes as long as we feel the money is being spent wisely. This is where trust comes in. We put our trust in elected officials to make the decisions to meet the needs of our citizens in the most efficient manner. We also put our trust in other governmental employees who are hired to deliver programs and services paid for by our tax dollars.

It appears that the officials in Minnesota are doing a pretty good job. A recent Reality Check on Channel 4 news showed that Minnesota ranks 18th among the 50 states in taxes. We were 37th in property tax and 27th in gas tax and 21st in sales tax. Of course, I am taking a chance by presenting any kind of ranking as various groups have various ways of using figures to tell different stories. I am sure there are places that I could go and live where I could pay less in taxes. But somehow, I kind of like good schools, good roads, and people who take a bit of pride about where they live. I have traveled through and visited a number of other states. There was only one, other than Minnesota, that I felt I might want to live in.

I have attended a few conferences and meetings on the national level and visited with folks from other states. To put it nicely, other states just do not work like Minnesota does and I always come home, thankful that my ancestors decided to settle here. Call me old fashioned, but I believe that you get what you pay for and I believe that people who invest in their communities (in the form of paying taxes) are more inclined to take ownership and work to improve those communities. And going a bit farther, I believe these people will hold the spenders of their tax dollars accountable.

Friedman states that the taxes we pay focus on developing people. We do this by developing institutions like: rule of law, property rights, independent courts, modern education, foreign trade, freedom of thought and other efforts that get the most from our most valuable resource – people. end

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