Letter from Langdon: Taking Tax Personally

Richard Oswald looks closely at the ugly subject everybody gripes about: Who really raised our taxes, and who's really paying them?

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I understand why most people don’t like taxes. About the time we think we have money to spare, there it is, tax time. No matter how good or how bad, every year ends with a bill from the county. Then we no sooner get past that and another bill is due to the IRS and the state Department of Revenue.

Because I’m rural, I could be called conservative. But because I’m a Democrat, some would call me a liberal. In northwest Missouri, one newcomer even wonders if Missouri Democrats are threatened with extinction. 

First and foremost, I guess I’m just a family farmer, which means either way you look at it, I’m an endangered species in Republicanville.

No individual is expected to support public works more than a farmer. After all, we generally have more taxable property than average citizens. Farming requires that we own not just a home and personal vehicles, but also trucks, farm machinery, livestock, land, and crops. We pay taxes on all of it.

These days most people are diverted by false issues and ignore the real ones. One issue I call false is the anti-tax mentality. Even the lowest wage earner on the totem pole pays taxes. Folks get spittin’ mad at the word even though they drink water, flush the toilet, and drive to work on surfaced roads thanks to revenue raised through taxes. When we need help, 911 answers our call to send law officers, ambulance crews or fire fighters. 

It’s all funded by our tax dollars. 

Got thirst? Your tax dollars at work.

Seems pretty simple: The public demands services so they must pay for them. But not everyone pays their fair share anymore, because over the last few years our conservative leaders have developed a liberal bias toward revenue. The public approves a tax for one purpose, but once the money comes in it’s hard telling where the politicians will spend it.

If someone underpays his taxes, the state is quite willing and able to count that money and send a bill for taxes due. That’s the way taxes are counted on individuals. But how about those tax credits given to corporations? Two years ago a conservative state representative from St Joseph told me that tax credits don’t cost anything because the state can’t count money it never received. 

Come tax time I may try that one on the Missouri Department of Revenue.

Many of our conservative leaders talk about tax cuts. What they’re really talking about most times is tax credits for wealthy people and businesses while run of the mill citizens pay the bills for public services. Sales taxes keep going up, property taxes increase as property values rise, and the state of Missouri still taxes income the same as ever. Yet we have a $2 billion budget shortfall.

Why is that?

I think it’s because big conservative business in Missouri has big conservative friends in the General Assembly who evade the truth about their stand on taxes.

Northwest Missouri is represented by three conservative Republicans. Two are in the Missouri General Assembly, and the third is in Congress. I know all three fairly well. They claim to be cautious on taxes, and they all say it is impossible for the taxpayer to bear the cost of public healthcare. But the three of them enjoy very good taxpayer funded health insurance for themselves along with retirement, expenses, and mileage.

I guess it’s only too expensive for some of us.

I’m just a farmer, so I pay my own expenses. For years I wasn’t allowed to deduct the cost of my health insurance even though all the wage earners who received health coverage from their employers got it for free. That’s OK with me, but it wasn’t fair. Now some are worried that under health care reform they might have to pay taxes on a benefit worth thousands of dollars. 

All I’m saying is, I think we should treat everyone the same. 

In the meantime we fund TIF (Tax Increment Financing) projects that actually pay for privately owned business ventures or retail outlets with local property and sales taxes. Shoppers think they’re paying sales tax to the state and local government but that money actually goes into the pockets of developers who also negotiate away property taxes.

If I wanted to pay for a store I’d build my own, but unfortunately it is now nearly impossible for small businesses to compete with large ones unless they are given the same consideration offered by TIF. I guess what the great liberal, Hillary Clinton, said was right. It does take a village — only I don’t think she was referring to financing private, for-profit business by taxing the general public.

TIF and some other tax credits are one of the most horrible abuses of public taxation since the Sheriff of Nottingham carried off Maid Marion. Under our conservative leadership, these credits have done nothing but grow in scope and acceptance because it’s called a tax cut even though we all keep on paying.

Taxes: the drama, the tragedy… and the certainty.

They say all things are fair in love and war just like the only sure things in life are death and taxes. That’s why I think the whole conservative thing is just for show. It’s the same reason armies use smoke screens and diversionary tactics in battle, so the other guy is looking the wrong way. 

Along about tax time, conservatives start pointing at liberals just so no one is looking at them.

I pay more taxes than I ever have before. Think about it. A new car that cost $15,000 five years ago may cost $20,000 today, so sales tax is higher, too. As the cost of living rises, even if salaries and wages keep up, income taxes go up by the same percentage. 

That didn’t just start after last year’s Presidential election, but that’s what conservatives want us to think even though Congress was controlled by conservatives from 1995 until 2007. In Missouri, the General Assembly is still under the control of Republicans. But one Republican Senator who campaigned for State Treasurer while sponsoring a bill in 2008 to grant one St Louis developer a $200 million tax credit (and got a big contribution) has seen the light. After losing the election to a Democrat, Brad Lager has returned to the state senate and called for limits on some state tax credits. His fellow conservatives disagree.

I suppose there’s no better saint than a reformed sinner.

It’s harder for folks (even folks who still have jobs) to pay the bills because tax credits to the wealthy have forced working people to maintain essential services through sales tax and property tax increases. In the meantime more and more businesses have been dipping into the revenue stream to expand or build big box retailers or affluent suburban malls, paid for with TIF and tax credits.

In other words, that big new Wal-Mart on the corner got the goldmine, and we got the shaft.

 

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