My husband and I, along with some members of our family, had the distinct pleasure of visiting Hawaii recently. Because of the tsunami scare, we watched TV a little more than usual on vacation.
One of the most startling clips was one of a judge admonishing a local entertainer who had just been convicted of tax evasion.
The judge’s comments were (and I paraphrase), “You have been convicted of tax evasion, but you are guilty of stealing from your community. Your lack of tax dollars took food from the hungry, shelter from the homeless, teachers from our children and other vital government programs that help your community. You should be ashamed!” What an unexpected lesson about taxes in an unexpected time and place!
Coming from California, a state that refuses to raise taxes on those who can pay more, on corporations that certainly can pay more and having just gone through another budget crisis, those words were truly a shock.
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The political fundamentalist, anti-tax view is that taxes are bad — no questions asked about what or how they will be used. They are bad and they lead to socialism, which can be defined as calling local government to fix the potholes in your street, calling the fire or police or paying the teacher who educates your child. These are all tax-supported functions and, thus, are socialism. Not that raising taxes is the panacea for all that troubles California, but more tax dollars would certainly help alleviate some of the troubles. There are no thoughts of listening to another point of view — the anti-tax fundamentalist mind is set, regardless of the very terrible economic times we are in and how our tax dollars can really help those who desperately need it.
No one is going to argue the point that tax dollars can be wasted by government. All we have to do is look at the government bailout of the banking system and our tax dollars that have been stolen by Wall Street bankers. I am not talking about the so-called earmarks that are less than 1 percent of the total federal budget. Remember, the tax dollars this county is seeking from Congress for the Los Osos sewer is seen by others as an earmark!
The constant rhetoric by fundamentalist anti-tax people to prevent any government spending is causing great harm to our democracy. Children are not being educated, people are going hungry, people are dying for lack of health care and the infrastructure that our businesses rely on is crumbling drastically. We used to be taught that a society was only as strong as its weakest link. This anti-tax rhetoric and subsequent actions based on it are creating a nation of weak links under the guise of preventing socialism.
What some people are calling socialism, however, is what (for generations) the churches, synagogues and temples have called social justice. It is this social justice that creates strong links in our society. To use one small example, I like my tax dollars going to prevent diseases in other people. If others are not vaccinated, that puts my family in jeopardy. Social justice is not always justice only for others. It also helps me and mine.
Let’s get rid of this notion that taxes are bad. What they are used for can be bad, no question. We need to elect people to office who understand this distinction. We do not need people who refuse to raise taxes for any reason whatsoever. This is political fundamentalism at its worst.
Shirley Bianchi is a former county supervisor for District 2, which covers the county’s North Coast.