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I'll Show You My Taxes, If You Show Me Yours

I’m long past being interested in having most experts on American values and policy tell me what I should do and what I should think.  Many who claim expertise do so with little or no vetting in terms of disclosure of potential conflicts of interest.  Before anyone lectures me with their superior take on my nation’s needs or diminishes my rights or slashes the public budgets that fund so many pubic goods and services, I want to see how much that expert pays in taxes.  If his or her personal tax rate is little or nothing, I will take the advice offered on wider issues as potentially tainted information provided by a source with a vested interest very different than my own.

Even when experts lecture in certain public institutions or settings they are often required to sign disclosures of the potential conflicts of interest related to their entanglements with those from whom they might financially benefit.  Politicians have to file campaign finance reports.  I wish we’d add a few disclosure requirements about personal tax rates.

For me, taxes are my stand in solidarity with all the other people with whom I share space in my community, state and nation to pool our resources and make our lives safer, cleaner and better.  I cannot afford to fix a pothole much less build a whole road, but I am pleased when I drive on a safe and well-maintained roadway.  I cannot buy a fire truck or an ambulance, but I sure am glad that together we can.  I certainly cannot educate a room full of children. 

I think sometimes when we hear people object to paying taxes, they are forgetting the very real everyday benefits of making sure we do pay our fair share.  That’s where the rub comes in for many of us.  We’ve all read recently more about the most egregious examples of corporate avoidance of tax payment, ala G.E. and many of their best friends forever in the corporate world, but we may not know that many of the individuals protecting those tax dodging corporations are right there in the non-tax-paying club with them. 

By the time I add up all the taxes I pay on my income, through state and local taxes and as a renter whose rent certainly funds the real estate tax for the owner of my rental home, my personal tax rate easily exceeds 25 percent (perhaps more if I had those teams of folks in my back room looking at all the ways I pay).    I am not objecting to that.  I am in a position in life where I cannot afford to take on the personal risks of home ownership nor would the same banks that loan the formerly bankrupt Donald Trump ever consider loaning the formerly bankrupt Donna Smith a dime for a mortgage, so I am fine with being the money behind making sure real estate taxes are paid for the owner of my rental home.  I believe paying taxes is good for all of us. 

I just want to know before anyone else looks down his or her nose at me if they are supporting the public good at the same level that I do.  I am a shareholder in my community, my state and my nation with significant skin in the game.   I want full disclosure from all of those who spend and enjoy the fruits of my labor.  I want to know that our investment in outcomes is vested in essentially the same general range.  I’d rather know that people with little or no money really pay less than those with so much.  But, for now, it would be great to know that fairness in terms of payment and the ability to be heard as a primary stakeholder was a given. 

I’d wear a button that said “25% and proud to be taxed” if I thought others would have to tell me what percentage of their own incomes they give to promote the common good and public welfare.  Right now, though, I’ll bet some of the well-to-do folks I know would think me a fool for paying so much – a chump who hasn’t found the loopholes – and many might refuse to tell me what they actually pay in taxes.

Taxes aren’t among the issues causing great trauma in my life.  The greatest assaults on my personal freedoms have come from those who pay the least in taxes (the corporations and the wealthy) who make the policies that injure me or diminish the value of what I have contributed.   I just want to clearly see for myself who is paying just how much.  Then I can assess for myself what that mayor or that governor or that Congressional member or that President or that corporate CEO hopes to achieve in terms of fiscal policy and all the impacts that flow from those policies.

Because healthcare and seeing healthcare extended to all is my primary area of interest, I think if we all saw the taxes paid or not paid by those healthcare industry “stakeholders,” I’d be willing to bet there is a directly opposite relationship between those who are setting the policies and those paying the bills both public and private. 

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Donna Smith

Donna Smith
Donna Smith is the executive director of Progressive Democrats of America.  PDA's mission is to strengthen the voice of progressive ideas inside and outside the Democratic Party by using "inside/outside" and "grassroots fusion" models of working both in the Democratic Party as well as working with other progressive organizations both inside and outside the Party.

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