A few years ago, my progressive friends started singing about the glories of taxation, and how much they loved paying taxes, and why, oh why, couldn’t the rest of us understand how important it was to hand over even more of our hard-earned money to the omniscient, wise state. I felt like I was in bizarro land. Never before in my life had I heard anyone demand to be taxed more, and never has it seemed like a good idea to me.
Having been a freelancer, and thus responsible for my own taxes and benefits (like health care and unemployment savings) for most of my working life, I’ve never found the state an effective provider of the services I want. Yes, there is something to be said for pooling our resources for a mutually-needed service, like public safety, cross-country roads, and parkland. But:
1. No matter how much you pay, it is never enough.
I have lived in California most of my life. When I moved here, the sales tax was 5%, the top personal state income tax rate was 7%, and the schools were good, the parks were clean, and the roads drivable. Now it’s 7.75% sales tax (just dropped from 8.75%) and the governor is jonesing for a vote that’ll give us the highest personal state income tax rate in the nation at 12% and most schools are nigh-unusable, the roads are falling apart, and there’s not enough money to lock up car thieves. I hear moans on the injustice of Proposition 13, which had to be voted in as old people were being forced out of homes they could no longer afford to pay the taxes on, without any consideration that shortly thereafter, we instituted a lottery to replace said lost income. Housing has gone up in price, so the amount of money that comes from property tax is similar to that paid by homeowners in other states; the lottery brings in millions, but it’s still not enough.
People, no matter how much you give the state, it will never be enough for all the things the politicians want to spend it on. Feel free to speculate and debate amongst yourselves on how this money is being mis-spent, or why those greedy people who do have money run away with it rather than keep watching it flow into Sacramento and disappear. But the more you give the government, the more it’ll spend, and once you’ve started spending on one thing or another, it’s impossible to stop.
It might hurt a little less if it weren’t also for the fact that:
2. No one ever says thank you
When someone pays me, I am grateful. But when I fill out a form and send the required funds (which are coerced, not asked for) to the appropriate agency, more often than not, I am punished for it. The EDD and the IRS constantly lose forms, which I then have to recreate and send to them again and again, not that my time is worth anything to them. Peter moved his business to San Jose, but rather than receiving a welcome from the Chamber of Commerce, as soon as he paid for his $300 business license, he received a demand for 2 years’ worth of fees and penalties just ‘cuz. A string of incompetent accountants resulted in me doing the back taxes for a small corporation for several years, and the State promptly cashed, but did not credit, the exorbitant (one of the highest in the nation) $800 franchise tax fee for one of the years, and sent us a nasty, incorrect bill. When I called, I was connected to a snotty, imperious agent who insisted she would not deign to talk to me, the mere mortal whose signature and name were at the bottom of each form, but only to one of the members of the board. Really, honey, only the CEO will do for you? When you’re going to be treated like tax-evading scum whether you’re honest or not (and more often when you are honest), is it any wonder some people prefer to hide their income instead of having to deal with the lords of the state?
3. If they’re right, you pay. If they’re wrong, you pay.
The first year I paid my income tax, I received a nasty little letter from the IRS demanding thousands for back taxes my mother had said she’d paid on my trust, but hadn’t, since the IRS had taken the liberties to simply suck taxes off it themselves. I had to pay a forensic accountant to recreate years of investments, returns, and tax rates, and in the end, they owed me $1, and took their sweet time paying up. Another year, I sent in my state income tax, and whoever processed the form, threw away the check. I had the check stub and registered proof of delivery, but I had to pay late payment penalties on a payment I made in time.
When they make a mistake, they don’t have to do right by you, and in fact, they can do all sorts of harm to you, seizing your assets and payments until you finally manage to get it corrected. If you make a mistake, the penalties appear the second you’re even a penny short of what you should have paid, and keep snowballing: and they’ll take their sweet time applying your correction to your record. Even my favorite tax lawyer has trouble dealing with them, because an auditor is free to interpret the laws on the books more freely than he or a judge may.
So don’t get me wrong. I’m not an anarchist or a libertarian. I don’t mind tithing some of my income to libraries and schools, to parades and police pensions. I doubt I’ll receive Social Security, at least not in any amount I could ever expect to live on, and also think it’s stupid to drop expensive bombs on Libya for no clear reason. Beyond that, I don’t care to debate how much should go where, and what is more important that other things. But I. Have. Paid. Enough. So don’t self-righteously go about telling me I need to pay even more than I already am, because taxes suck.