"Taxes are the price we pay for civilization."
If I remember right, it was Rep. Dave Obey who reminded us of that Oliver Wendell Holmes quotation during his appearance at Fighting Bob Fest last Saturday.
The point is that unless we adequately support our governments, they're going to be weak and we, ultimately, are going to pay the price. We can't fight expensive wars and then reduce taxes on the wealthy without hurting the country.
We saw the manifestation of that on the Gulf Coast a few days ago. In order to pay for Iraq, FEMA was neglected and a lot of folks paid the price as a result. Louisiana and New Orleans agencies were ineffective because they, too, had been inadequately funded in recent years. Heaven knows how many other agencies that exist to protect the American people from harm are in the same shape.
At the same time, no one, including myself, enjoys paying taxes.
But, if we insist on starving our governments, from the school district to the feds, it's likely to cost us a whole lot more in the end. Sort of like that Fram oil filter ad, "you can pay me now or you can pay me later."
That doesn't mean that taxes have to be onerous. They just need to be fair. We've got to stop this nonsense that corporations shouldn't pay taxes because they create jobs (how many take the tax breaks and farm out jobs overseas?) and stop policies that place an ever larger burden on the middle class individual taxpayer.
That's why the so-called Taxpayer Bills of Rights is so troubling. The legislators behind the move to starve local governments are the same ones who push more tax breaks for corporations. When our schools become second-rate as a result, think of the price we'll all pay someday for ill-educated citizens. That's when businesses will quickly move out. When the UW loses its world-class reputation, that's when it won't attract research money. Will we really have saved anything in the end?
We've got to quit electing lawmakers whose only vision of government is to simplistically cut taxes, regardless of the consequences. Most of them have no other agenda, nor do they care about one.
Meanwhile, they're always the first at the trough to get what's coming to them.
Dr. Judith Ladinsky, the UW-Madison scientist who serves on the U.S. Committee for Scientific Cooperation with Vietnam, sent me a copy of a statement issued in Hanoi shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast:
"Dear Friends: With deep concern and great sadness, we have followed the terrible news about Hurricane Katrina and the storm's aftermath in the southern parts of the United States, especially the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, which have caused huge losses of human life and vast property damage to the people of that region.
"We at the Vietnam-USA Society wish to convey to you, and through you to the American families and individuals who are enduring those losses, our deepest sympathy. We believe that strong community spirit and courage will help the American people to overcome and recover from the aftermath caused by Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst natural disasters America has faced in its history."
Not bad sentiment from a country that our government insisted was our bitter enemy only 35 years ago.
Dave Zweifel is editor of The Capital Times.
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