Who likes paying taxes?
Nobody. Everyone hates paying taxes. I mean literally everyone. Even those who understand that without them we don't have roads, water, schools, etc.
This year we're going to hate it even more. As Catherine Rampell writes in Wapo : "this year could shape up to be the filing season from hell."
It turns out that "Big government” is not big enough. A couple of factoids to put it in context:
The IRS has fewer than 15,000 employees to handle 240 million calls from taxpayers in just the first half of last year. That’s one person for every 16,000 calls.
Although the population of the United States has grown by about 60 percent since 1970 and the tax code has become more complex, the size of the work force at the I.R.S. has been flat, the Treasury Department said. The agency has fewer auditors now than it has employed at any time since World War II.
You'd almost think it was part of a plan. Hmmm?
Everyone hates paying taxes. Therefore we really hate the IRS.
So cut funding and make us double down on hate.
If you're about dismantling government, then dismantling the IRS is the perfect fuel to ignite a prairie fire of discontent.
If you want to dig a little more check out a booklet I wrote a few years ago, Dismantling Democracy (free PDF here,) about the concerted conservative attack on government - on the idea, on the institution and mostly importantly on public support for government and the public things we all need. The institutions that build our roads, pick up our trash, teach our kids, provide the water that comes out of your tap, etc. etc. Yeah, that government.
One of the other fuels for the fire has been the unrelenting drumbeat that we've heard over and over and over again - so much so that it's become a completely undeniable fact – is that government is a chronic, uncontrollable waster of taxpayer money (so why should we give it more - or any?)
I decided to dig a little (aka google) what waste conservatives are really talking about. Turns out waste is in the eye of the beholder. Surprise.
I went to the source: a Citizens Against Government Waste list of wasteful spending.
Here's what I found. In any organization the size of the federal government there's bound to be some waste. There is in my household. But, for them, it's about things they just don't like. Some of their recommendations:
Repeal Davis Bacon that sets job standards on publicly funded construction
Eliminate Community Development Block Grants
Sell excess federal property (who knows, maybe that's even a good idea?)
Eliminate federal subsidies for Amtrack.
Eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
You get the picture.
The political paradox we face is real. If you say you’re for higher taxes to pay for the things we need, you can lose your election. But if our leaders (inside and outside of government) don't articulate the value and civic responsibility of paying taxes, of what we actually get (and that we take for granted) from tax spending then we’ll never move the needle.
I've done a ton of interviews since my book came out (do you have it yet?) and I often have to state the obvious: things we value cost money and there's only one place to get it - us. The only question is how we pay (taxes, tolls, fees), who pays how much (progressive) and when we pay - before a crisis to prevent it or after when we have to fix it (always more expensive.)
It's not easy. There's no simple narrative that will make people love paying taxes. But if we're going to counteract the 40-year conservative drumbeat attacks on government, we need our own drumbeats.
Where to start? Honestly, I'm not sure but a here’s few possible ideas. 1. Always articulate the larger purpose of the public services and things we use (i.e. the roads are about mobility) and 2. Point out public things that we do like (my kids teacher, the paint on our walls that no longer has lead in it because of government safeguards, etc.)
Now a few songs about public things
Joe Troop’s A Plea to the U.S. Government to Fully Fund the Post Service
Jason Isbell’s TVA (“Thank god for the TVA”)
Catch you later. Stay Safe.