No one likes paying taxes, even when they know it’s necessary to running a city, state and country.
But what’s different about paying taxes as opposed to spending money on necessities such as gasoline, utilities, phone bills and life insurance is we see our dollars leaving our wallets for use on clear and impactful ends.
It’s rarely the same for taxes.
Sure, government is a complex machine whose working parts run round the clock without our knowledge—not that we have to know about everything that’s going on to benefit from it.
But there is plenty we know about that bothers the hell out of us because we recognize it as wasteful spending by politicians who we never seem able to hold accountable for their actions.
Be it Alaska’s infamous “bridge to nowhere” or the obvious nepotism at work in the hiring of Louisville Metro Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin’s felonious grandson, government waste of taxpayer dollars is frighteningly out of control. It’s what bothers most Americans, regardless of whether they vote D or R, and because of that, it’s a cause behind which we should unite.
No decent business run like our government would last long because the money supply would dry up, just as it has for many families currently facing bankruptcy because they lived beyond their means.
But alas, government at every level—and regardless of what party is in control—is never forced to find a solution other than jacking up taxes to draw more revenue or, worse, borrowing the money from other countries. And once our legislators have their hands on it, the fight is on to see who gets the most and the spread the largesse where he or she likes.
This is where both sides—liberals and conservatives (or centrists, like me), left or right, Democrat or Republican—can agree that it has to be stopped. Both groups are smart enough to recognize government waste and fraud that costs taxpayers billions of dollars every year.
Yet that rarely happens because there’s so little meaningful and respectful discourse about politics in general. Most every discussion is either dragged off course by ideology or polarized by groups that refuse to look beyond their special interests to recall that, indeed, someone who may not agree with them does have a say.
The unity I fantasize about here, does, however, occur on occasion: The blog I recently wrote about the dramatic changes going on in Owensboro, Ky., (Owensboro, Ky., a must-visit place, shows a town taxing and spending with vision) shows how the city and Daviess County agreed to a tax—Gasp! They chose to be taxed!—that would revive its aged riverfront. Though it didn’t happen without grumbling and grousing, the 96,000 residents of Daviess County agreed to a 4 percent tax increase on insurance policies to fund a riverfront revival that has triggered a significant economic boom.
Mayor Ron Payne told me recently he risked killing off any chance of reelection in asking for what amounted to $40 million in new tax revenue in the middle of a recession. But he believed so strongly that once the locals saw that money manifested in visible and palpable changes to the area, they’d agree it was a good move.
He was right. Today, not only are Daviess Countians seeing that money in the form of buildings and playgrounds and hotels and restaurants, they’re seeing area investors match those dollars with their own dough.
Payne said that on weekends, a downtown parking garage’s rooftop level has become a busy gathering place where locals stop for a bird’s-eye view of the riverfront development. “They’re excited now. They see it happening. They believe it.”
By comparison, what do we see on Louisville’s riverfront? Very little that’s changed since the Great Lawn was created. Plenty of aging, rusting bridges, but no sign of the new one discussed ad nauseum for at least 20 years.
All we hear are lots of arguments over the placement of dreamed-of bridges and the removal of the section of I-64 that clutters the riverfront view—changes no one seems to want to pay for, it should be noted—but little real action.
The economic microboom underway in Owensboro is a rare example of taxing and spending that worked. So why doesn’t this happen more often?
Is it because the nation lacks enough courageous visionaries like Payne, who while having to step on a fair share of toes to muscle this project through, was able to convince the majority he was right and then prove it?
That surely has to be part of the problem.
And perhaps it’s also because so few people of such quality care to wade into the shark tank of U.S. politics. Who could blame them?
Thank God there are a few Mayor Paynes out there who get the job done. Were I running his reelection campaign, I’d create posters featuring a picture of him placed beside an image of the city’s thriving waterfront. And above both I’d run text that read: “No Payne, No Gain.”
But Payne doesn’t need my help or that of any other in the next election.
He’s running unopposed.