The end of the tax-filing season is a good time to ask where the tax money is going and whether some of our public services justify their rising cost. The grumbles are louder than usual this year.
Call it a civic duty, a democratic privilege or a financial necessity, paying taxes is no fun. We earned the money. Why should we give so much of it to the city, the county, the state, the school district and the federal government?Oliver Wendell Holmes once remarked that "taxes are what we pay for civilized society." We have no quarrel with that. This would be a sorry country without schools, roads, trash collectors, police and fire protection, national defense and a Social Security system.
But the cumulative impact of taxes, large and small, on the typical American family is creating a backlash that undermines confidence in government and gives taxation a bad name.
In a broad sense, taxes are rising faster than income, and the situation is likely to get worse. The business recession that began last summer is causing revenue shortfalls at all levels of government. What to do? Raise taxes, of course.
Fortunately, irate taxpayers, even in supposedly affluent communities, aren't buying that. No more taxes, they're saying. Let's cut spending instead. The aversion to new taxes, especially property taxes, has become so strong that voters in some communities have imposed legal limits on how much elected officials can spend.
Tax revolts have been brushed off in the past as the mischief of crotchety conservatives, backed by rich corporations. But this revolt is different. Politicians would be wise to heed the angry voices they're hearing.