Monday, September 13, 2010

Sales Tax: A Necessary Tool of Government

Ah, it's been too long since I've stepped on my soapbox. So here goes:

On the ballot in Massachusetts this November is an initiative to reduce the state sales tax to 3%. For most of my life, sales tax has been at 5% (which was always a nice easy number to calculate in my head), and in 2009, it was raised by Gov. Patrick to 6.25%. This increase was decried by many residents of Massachusetts of many political stripes, but I'd like to speak up in defense of the sales tax.

There are not that many ways for government to raise capital aside from taxes. And the outlets for taxation are not as plentiful as you think. There's property taxes (which go to towns, and that's a whole forthcoming rant on the state of property taxes in Boston with its horde of non-property tax paying, land sucking non-profits: I'm looking at you Harvard-upon-Allston and Northeastern), and there's a few other small taxes, and income tax, and sales tax.

Please pause for a moment to think about the things that taxes pay for. Here are some of the things that I am very grateful for when I pay my taxes: the Police, the Fire Department, the MBTA, public schools, paved roads, clean water, UMASS, MassArt, online government forms and... well, I'll stop there. I'd particularly like to point out to you the public school system, from K-12 to higher education which runs on our taxes.

Have you noticed lately how many budget cuts have been made to our school systems? Have you bothered to talk to a state employee and ask how budget cuts have affected them? For example, Luisa Paiwonsky, our State Highway Commissioner, the woman who makes sure our roads get plowed in the winter and repaved in the summer, doesn't even get her own business cards. I should call and ask Gov. Patrick if he gets business cards.

Our state is not in great fiscal shape. And part of that, I'd like to blame on Mitt Romney, just generally, because he was a terrible governor. I mean, the man spent most of his term out of state telling other states how awful Massachusetts was, and trying to be President. He didn't want to pass the health care legislation--and then he told the country how awesome he was for passing it (because he got overridden). He was against gay marriage (and is a general narrow minded bigot). And he cut taxes, and "cut costs" by slashing services. Under Romney, 75% of state funding for rape crises centers was cut (the same week he gave a quarter of a million dollars to Brookline for upkeep of its public golf course).

So, of course, what we need now, in this time of increasing need for services, is more money for the state. More people are out of work and need unemployment benefits. People are forgoing buying cars, so they need more public transit. With unemployment comes more need for government provided health care. The list goes on and on. And if you think we are in a bad state with sales tax at 6.25%, imagine what happens when you chop that in half!

The argument in favor of 3% sales tax is this: it puts more money back into the pockets of the average person, and encourages more spending. Point A is true, but somewhat useless. Point B is unproven. Let me break this down for you. If I go to buy a $100 widget, and sales tax is 6.25%, I will pay $106.25 for the widget, and the state gets $6.25. If sales tax is 3%, I'll pay $103.00 dollars and the state gets $3.00. So, I have a potential savings of $3.25. Amazing. If I'm going to buy a $100 widget, $3 of tax one way or the other really isn't going to persuade me to buy or not buy the thing.

But this whole "more money in your pocket" point is ridiculous. Yes, I have an extra $3 in my pocket, but what does that really buy me? It's not enough to save, and it's not a major piece of purchasing power. I'd probably blow it on a latte. So, I got my $100 widget, and a latte. Well, that certainly shoved the economy around!

If we all gave that extra $3 to the state, the state can concentrate enough purchasing power to actually effect change, or at least properly fund the school system, or fix some of the scarily falling apart bridges in our state, or pay for health care assistance for the unemployed. Or fuel assistance for the needy, since winter is coming up.

So please, people of Massachusetts, don't be swayed by these stupid arguments about how much money you're going to save on sales tax, and instead think about how many teachers will have to be fired if you chop sales tax in half. Remember, we were all smart enough not to abolish the income tax, so let's all be smart enough to continue to fund our state so it can serve us.

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