Let's Talk Taxes
Posted on April 17, 2012 by Kirsten Dunham
Today is tax day. 9-9-9, flat tax, mega sales tax, the Buffett rule, and other tax plan phrases are all over the air waves this election year. And it’s not just a hot topic this year but has been a topic of debate over the course of human history. We know why we pay taxes (perhaps) but the struggle comes in deciding who pays, how much and what for. Even though these are tough questions, I believe it is worthwhile to get past the spin and have a civil conversation about the public structures we need to keep our Missouri communities strong and our families safe and healthy.
I’ve thought about why I agree we should pay taxes. A part of my answer is that it is much more practical. I care about and like to think that I'd financially support kids, the environment, public transportation, people with disabilities and all my fellow Missourians. But if I didn't pay taxes, can I be certain that I would or even could sit down and write checks to important public structures? How would I know which school needed money more? If I see a road that needs repaired, could I get enough people to contribute to the same road so there’s enough money for construction? How would I choose between enforcing civil rights or regulating the safety of food and drugs? I'm stating the obvious - taxes are an organized way to gather our resources and make decisions about public priorities through our elected representatives. Public structures need our support because they benefit all of us. We want a community where our families are safe and healthy, we invest in our future by giving our kids a good education and all members have an opportunity to participate fully in work and community life.
The tough conversation is around who should pay taxes, how much and for what. Here is an example of why we need this conversation. Last week, the Missouri Senate Appropriations Committee cut child care subsidies for low-income families which would mean a family earning slightly more than the federal poverty level (about $23,000/yr for a families of 4) would not receive any assistance as they go back to work and take care of their families. The average annual fee for a 4 year old at a child care center is almost $6,000 (NACCRRA 2011 Child Care in the State of Missouri). Is it a good economic plan to take away the supports that helps a family be able to go back to work? Nor is it a good economic plan to cut higher education. It is a false choice to say we have to choose between higher education and social services. Missouri has the lowest cigarette tax in the country. Missouri's state tax brackets have not been updated since 1931. There are many other solutions that could be put on the table – check out the many resources offered by the Missouri Budget Project. We need both education and supports such as child care subsidies to increase employment and help our economy.
Our kids and our communities deserve a real conversation, and I have heard these conversations happening at the local level. Politicians who take time to listen might hear the farmer who has medical debt after her fight with cancer; the state worker with an overwhelming caseload who has to tell too many working poor families that there isn't more help; and the person with a disability who wants to go back to work but will lose the personal attendant services that he needs to get there. Solutions are also being found in our communities. St. Louis County passed the sales tax for Metro and City residents overwhelmingly preserved the city earnings tax.
Let’s agree that we want to live in a Missouri that where our families are safe and healthy, we invest in our future by giving our kids a good education and all Missourians have the opportunity to participate in work and community life. Then, let’s have the talk with our friends, neighbors and co-workers about the public structures and the public support we need to make our state strong.