Watching those noisy “T parties” recently got me to thinking about all the quiet ways that these allegedly unbearable taxes were making for a better, safer and more prosperous Minnesota, even for those who hate taxes.
One could start with the security around the event and the highway and transportation systems for the protesters themselves. And then there was our magnificent and expensive state capitol building, one of the finest in the nation, which provided a dignified backdrop for the overheated speeches and incendiary posters suggesting that our governments are somehow illegitimate.
If the protesters were representative of the general population, 90 percent of them got their learning, and therefore their most important personal economic asset, from taxpayer supported public schools and colleges.
And in thinking about how a larger silent majority should not let this angry hollering go uncontested, it occurred to me as well that maybe there is some improvement we should demand for the tax dollars spent on our public schools. Something may be wrong with our education system if so many citizens can confuse the legitimacy of the original Boston “tea party,” a tax protest preceding the Revolutionary War against a despotic undemocratic monarchy, and the taxes today that are imposed by the most legitimate, democratic and representative governments the world has ever known.
Improvements in civics education might help more people understand at least the possibility of a relationship between taxes and the overall quality of life in society, and the idea of common good.
And that got me to thinking about how the mostly Silent Majority in Minnesota –borrowing from President Richard Nixon’s very effective imagery in the protest-crazy 1960s – need to be heard.
Thankfully, polls consistently show that most Minnesotans have a reasonable understanding and acceptance of government taxing and spending. Despite years of anti-government propaganda from well-funded conservative think tanks, most citizens, at least on reflection, realize the verity of Oliver Wendell Holme’s famous observation that taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.
Further, and more specifically, including the latest Star Tribune poll on the subject, surveys also have shown that about 60 to 70 percent of Minnesotans favor a balanced approach to our historic $6 billion budget shortfall, or a mix of cuts and reasonable revenue increases. Polls also have shown Minnesotans also support income tax increases on the top tiers, and especially so if it goes to education and property tax reductions.
That comprehensive strategy – deep cuts in many government services and programs, some accounting shifts, and some revenue increases, mostly through the income tax – is the basic thrust of the legislative package of bills moving through the Legislature.
The alternative to yet another no-new-taxes solution will be: no money for increased investment in early childhood education; tens of thousands of children and working folks losing health-care subsidies and therefore coverage; a diminution in court services that even the Supreme Count Chief Justice has deemed unacceptable; and dramatic cuts in local government aid and a widening gap between low-income, middle-income and high-income neighborhoods in Minnesota.
The anti-taxers have had their turn and more reasonable voices need to be heard now, if not sooner. Calls and letters and e-mails to the governor and legislators – no matter which party and how committed they are to one approach or the other – really do have an impact.
And there is a way to make a physical presence and a constructive show of support for the value of public investment. Noon on May 11 has been selected as a time for moderate-to-progressive citizens to show up at the capitol for an event sponsored by the broad-based “Invest in Minnesota” campaign, which favors a balanced approach to the budget crisis.
The campaign website (www.investinmn.org) offers other idea on how to spread the word, including tips on how to circulate some very persuasive video messages showing ordinary folks weighing in on the value of the things provided by taxes.
Minnesota’s total Price of Government is lower than it was 10 years ago, and our ranking among the states in revenues as a percentage of the economy is also at all-time low. Meanwhile, our state and local and federal governments do good and truly indispensable work every hour of the day, just as our private-sector mostly performs well most of the time.
We pay a price on the market for the latter and we pay a price in taxes for the former. As the Legislature and the governor enter their final month on the budget, consider helping make the case for the former.
Dane Smith is the president of Growth & Justice. A non-partisan advocate for fair taxation and smart public investment, Growth & Justice believes a sustainable economy provides the foundation for a just society.
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