Reflections on Tax Day 2010

My son likes to use my tools. Some days this irritates me. Will he return the tool to its proper place? Will he use it appropriately? Other days, I barely take note, confident that he is using my tools responsibly and productively.

Many seem to have a similar relationship to government and taxes. They get agitated when government doesn’t use their tax dollars the way they think it should. But when all is well they hardly take note.

Largely overlooked in the discussion this year is the fact that because of legislation enacted last year, 99% of Maine’s working families paid, on average, nearly $1,000 less in 2009 taxes.

Rather than fixate on whether you paid too little or too much this year, imagine a world without government or taxes.  It’s an interesting exercise. Where would we be without safe roads and bridges, public education, safe drinking water and so many other things we take for granted?

At MECEP, much of our work focuses on taxes. How much is enough? How should they be spent? How do we make sure they are fair?

Our answers to these questions reflect our values. MECEP believes government can and does play a role in providing for our economic security and promoting shared prosperity for all. Who pays how much in taxes is just as important as how they are spent in realizing these outcomes, particularly for low- and middle-income families.  This is why dealing with the estate tax and tax reform are such important issues in the months to come.

We recognize that taxes are a tool.  They are not inherently good or bad. As with most tools, how we use them determines whether they build or demolish.  I need to look no further than my son’s tree house or the hole he dug in the middle of our garden to be reminded of this.