One myth about taxes

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by Michael Rodning Bash • 11/8/08 • Throughout the closing days of this grueling campaign season it was inevitable that one side would start hammering away on taxes, taxes and more taxes. At the national level, Senator McCain claimed that Senator Obama’s plan to raise taxes on wealthier individuals amounted to “redistributionism” (as far as I know, a new word in our political lexicon) and more pointedly accused the Democrat of “socialism,” as if a system of progressive taxation were the equivalent of collectivized industry and agriculture. Here in Minnesota, the Republicans were trumpeting over and over that DFL candidates were all for taxes, taxes and more taxes (see for example, Erik Paulson’s ads in his race against Ashwin Madia).

As the 2008 election approaches, TCDP is receiving many thoughtful opinion columns about candidates and issues. The Soapbox blog offers a space for local opinion on (mostly) national and world issues, including elections.

From where I sit, it always seems to boil down to certain folks (usually those with more money) claiming that others are wanting to “take too much of my money.” There is this myth that taxes are taking “my money.” And frankly, I’m getting tired of that phrase.

Not one of us earns money all on his or her own, not the farmer, not the lawyer, not the factory worker, not even Joe the Plumber. We all have a stake in the money that each of us makes, so we as a community or society have a claim on some of that money. That part is not “my” money, that part is “our” money.

Farmers want to move their crops to market, food processors need raw materials, city dwellers need food. It moves on roads and rails, built directly by us (roads) or subsidized by us (rail). Do you think Arctic Cat could survive in Roseau, Minnesota, nearly in Canada, without highways to move its goods in and out of factories? It couldn’t. Marvin Windows, up in Warrod, Minnesota, has the same needs. They’re dependent on the roads as are we who use their products or just want to visit northern Minnesota’s forests for our vacation.

What about all the dot-com businesses that sprang up in the 1990’s and the software companies whose products power our workplaces? Not one these companies would be around if were not for the robust system of intellectual property protections in this country that grant protections for copyright, trademark and patents. But for those protections, and the federal government and courts to enforce them, those businesses would have never happened. Those institutions are supported by all of us through our tax dollars. Patent and trademark lawyers are the beneficiaries of this, too. The examples are all around us.

Minnesota used to be a leader in having and developing an educated workforce. That didn’t happen by some accident of history. It was a product of very intentional social policies that put in place world-class educational opportunities for the people who lived here. We all benefited from those investments by the dynamic and successful business development that took place (3M, Honeywell, Dayton’s, Medtronic). Those companies were not founded here because of low taxes, but because of the educated and creative environment that was fostered by public investment in human and physical infrastructure.

In Minneapolis, where I live and work, we are graced with one of the most beautiful and extensive systems of public parks in the United States. It is enjoyed by countless thousands every week, including visitors from less-fortunate (but wealthier) suburbs, where there was not the foresight to include parkland in their development plans. The framework for this park system was put in place well over one hundred years ago by some very forward-thinking civic leaders who realized the long-term value of that investment.

I don’t particularly like taxes any more than the next guy, but we all need to realize that the taxes we pay support the common good of our communities, our state and our nation. Public investment of our taxes make it possible for the vast majority of us to earn our livelihoods; and the folks who benefit most from the public’s investment should contribute most. It would be folly to tell the window factory in Warrod that if it wants to move its products to St. Paul, it will have to build its own roads. And it would be nonsense to tell the line worker in the factory that he should shoulder as much of the burden for those roads as the factory owner.

From roads to courts to rails to parks to schools there is one thing that these all have in common: they are built and supported by public investment and that investment is raised through a variety of taxes. Whether we live in the city, the suburbs or the country, we all have a stake in the prosperity of one another’s communities and we contribute to that prosperity through our system of common, progressive taxation – the dues we pay for living in a civilized society.