A Look at Principles of Government and Just Taxation
It’s special election time again here in Washington, that time when we waste even more taxpayer dollars to hold elections that have only one or two items on the ballot – items that likely would fail if placed on a general election ballot where the will of the greater population is more accurately reflected. Here in Spokane County, the two ballot issues are the renewal of an expiring sales tax for juvenile detention facilities and a 3/10% sales tax increase to fund public transportation.
The specific ballot issues may be unique to my county, but the principles of government and just taxation that are guiding my vote are applicable everywhere and should be applied at every election.
JUVENILE DETENTION FACILITIES
I will be saying “NO!” to renewing the expiring juvenile detention sales tax because we as a society are Taxed Enough Already!
There are legitimate functions of government that I am happy to pay taxes for, but those legitimate functions do not require the current level of taxation. Total federal, state and local combine receipts, i.e. taxes, has hovered in the 26% to 30% of GDP (gross domestic product) range for over three decades now (28% as of 2013), as compared to 10% and below prior to the 1930s, with the actual cost of government (all spending and regulatory burdens) at 51% of GDP as of 2014.
Juvenile justice certainly is one of the legitimate functions of government, but why is it that we are asked to raise taxes to provide for it while nonessential programs and activities seem to expand perpetually without the need for taxpayer approval? It appears we have elected people who are willing to give our general revenue tax dollars to superfluous activities and wasteful programs, but are unwilling to fund the essentials unless we consent to higher taxes.
One of my pet peeves is that all legitimate and ongoing government services should be assigned a permanent source of funding sufficient for their continued operation. Maintenance, construction and even expansion should be figured into the budget. Any agency that does not set aside a sufficient portion of its budget for future needs is irresponsible and guilty of mismanagement. Any legislative body that does not assign a proper and sufficient source of ongoing funding for essential services, is guilty of perpetrating a scam on the public designed to force us to vote for special taxes, levies and tax increases in order to maintain the legitimate functions that we need government to perform.
What would you think of a restaurant that suddenly raised the price of hamburgers because one of the kitchen appliances was wearing out and they had no money to replace it because they had spent all their profits and failed to budget for maintenance and replacement? In the private sector, the manager of that restaurant would be fired, but in the public sector, they get reelected.
It may be rather obstinate of me, but I’m at the point of just saying, “NO,” to all new taxes, increased taxes, extensions of temporary taxes and levies, thereby placing the burden on our elected officials to budget wisely, prioritize spending and eliminate nonessential activities, preferably beginning with the plethora of socialistic do-gooder and busybody programs. If we the people have been foolish enough to elect public servants who are either incapable of budgeting wisely, or unwilling to prioritize spending, then we deserve to suffer the effects of an underfunded juvenile justice system.
To put it in parenting terms, at some point you just have to stand up to the spoiled brat and say, “No,” regardless of what kind of fit he threatens to throw.
SPOKANE TRANSIT AUTHORITY
This is an increase in sales tax to maintain and improve the transit system. If an increase in sales tax is needed to maintain the system, then as explained earlier, we have proof of mismanagement that should be punished, not rewarded with additional tax dollars.
The STA’s own campaign mailer (which itself violates state law by spending public money to campaign for a ballot measure, though they do it under the thinly veiled guise of being an “informational” brochure) claims that bus ridership has increased by 44% in the last ten years. How does a 44% increase in business equate to needing more money from the public trough to keep the system afloat?
What private business with a 44% increase in sales would go to a bank for a loan, explaining that they don’t have enough money to maintain the building and keep the lights on? The bank would laugh in their face, then call the police with suspicion that someone must be embezzling funds. Yet our public servants at the STA want to be rewarded for this gross mismanagement.
The STA, and public transit in most communities, is a black hole that sucks in all the public funds that approach its event horizon. The more money it sucks in, the greater its mass becomes and the greater its gravitational pull to suck in ever increasing amounts of the public wealth.
The biggest black hole in the current tax increase proposal is a plan to build a six mile long electric trolley system, at a cost of $72 million, in order to provide transportation to a route that can already be served by buses which cost 20% less to operate (see Chris Cargill’s article in the Journal of Business). In other words, STA wants to spend $72 million, plus 20% extra in annual operational costs, to do what can already be done without spending anything. This seems to be STA’s version of poking a sharp stick in our eye, demanding that we pay for the privilege, then expecting us to beg for more.
A PRINCIPLE OF SERVICES AND FUNDING
The crux of the matter is that there are two categories of government services and two just and legitimate means of funding them.
- General, essential, public services provided to all and paid for by all.
- Specific services provided to a segment of the population and paid for by that segment.
Under the first category we have things like police, fire protection, courts and other services that benefit everyone. These services are rightly paid for through taxes that are assessed on the general population so that we all pay for services that we all benefit from.
Under the second category we have things like roads that are used only by people with automobiles, domestic water systems used only by property owners within the particular utility district, and recreational activities like snowmobiling where plowed parking areas and groomed trails are provided for those participating in that particular activity. Each of these are paid for by the users through a use fee or tax applied to things related to the activity. Roads are paid for by drivers through a gas tax. Domestic water systems are paid for through a per gallon fee assessed to the property owner. Snowmobile parking and trail grooming are provided through an annual snowmobile license fee paid by snowmobile owners.
It is just, fair and right to make everyone pay for those services that benefit all of us and it is equally proper to require those benefiting from a specific service to furnish the funding necessary to provide it.
What is completely unjust, and even prejudicial, is to provide services that only benefit a segment of the population while requiring the remainder of the population to pay for it. Such is the STA – a means of transportation chosen by only a few in the community, yet paid for by all. By STA’s own admission, only 16% of it’s funding is derived from those using the system. To put it another way, 84% of the cost of running those buses all over town, and even out into the countryside, usually with only a handful of riders aboard and often completely empty, is being paid by people who do not use, nor benefit from, the service.
What would you think if I requested that the government tax my neighbor, taking his money by force, in order to subsidize 84% of the cost of putting gas in my pickup truck? Yet there is no difference. I chose one method of transportation while my neighbor chose another, yet government stands between us determining that one of our free will choices is more valid than the other and that one of us should pay 84% of the other’s transportation costs. What next? If we all start walking instead, will government decide that walking in Nike shoes is more valid than walking in work boots, so those wearing work boots will be required to subsidize 84% of the cost of purchasing Nikes for everyone else?
This is a matter of a governing principle that is applicable to many other areas. For example, some people choose to be entertained by going to a movie, while others choose to be entertained by reading a book – the moviegoer pays his own way, while the book reader goes to the library and checks out a book at the moviegoer’s expense. If you want to really start tipping over sacred cows, how about one person wanting their child educated in a particular manner and spending their own money on a private school, while another person chooses to have the government educate their child at the expense of the person who is already paying a private school tuition and at the expense of others who have no children at all.
My bottom line with the STA, public transportation in general and every activity that only serves a segment of the population, is that they should all be self-funding. I could accept some public expenditure for the upfront costs of building infrastructure, but after that, those who benefit from the service should pay for it.
Until government services are funded by just methods and overall taxation is returned to a reasonable level, I’ll be voting NO!