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Taxes: Our love- hate affair just isn’t the same

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POSTED September 14, 2010 2:52 a.m.
Patrick Johnston is a man who doesn’t easily give into anger.

But there he was 15 years ago as a state senator in the midst of a tough re-election campaign, listening to his Republican opponent plummet him left and right during a gathering organized by the Manteca Chamber of Commerce at the former Larimore’s Restaurant in the 200 block of North Main Street.

Johnston listened as his opponent - a Stockton entrepreneur - played to the business crowd. He slammed Johnston non-stop noting that “Pat Johnston never met a tax proposal he didn’t vote for.”

As his challenger stepped away from the podium to the sound of strong applause, Johnston stood up and walked a few feet to the podium where he stood for a moment as he surveyed the crowd.

Then he pointed toward the south as his eyes squinted in a bit of rage.

“The Highway 120 Bypass, the road many of you campaigned for in this room to get the state to build to save lives and reduce traffic in Manteca, was built with taxes...”

Johnston went on for perhaps two minutes listing things such as police, fire, schools, roads, sewers, water supplies and more as examples of things taxes built.

Johnston then said that his opponent had just said taxes were evil but then asked who in this room didn’t want the services he had rattled off?

It was so quiet you could hear his opponent’s heart beating.

Johnston drove home a point about our love-hate affair with taxes. We love the services but hate the taxes to pay for them.

In truth, Johnson verified what 21st century American politicians understand - “all politics are local.”

We understand what we use every day. We are less likely to be against a tax that keeps fire and police ready around the clock to protect our families and community than we are to $7 million spent on studying the mating habits of slugs on the Fiji Islands.

We grumble, but still support, taxing to raise money for local schools but it is beyond most of us why federal tax dollars would go to support grants to artists who place crucifixes in jars of urine for public display. It’s not that we debate the vulgarity of the art. It’s the vulgarity of the waste of tax dollars that is the bigger affront.

Taxes of all sorts are slapped on the products we buy. They are taxed every step of the way from raw resources until they go into a bag for us to haul home.

We grumble about the vehicle license fee on cars we drive that is paid once a year. But you never hear a whimper about all the hidden taxes you pay when you purchase a car. And it’s not sales tax we’re talking about.

The land the iron mine is on is taxed. So is the railroad and trucking lines that carried the ore. The mill has taxes on it, as does the automobile manufacturer and the car dealer. And that doesn’t mention the other taxes they pay on profits, employee salaries and an alphabet of other taxes disguised in the form of users’ fees and regulations.

Of course, users’ fees are much less obscene than taxes. When done right as they are in California, they simply cover the cost of using a service one can’t provide for one’s self such as a municipal sewer system.

Those users’ fees only become obscene with state agencies who answer to no one except special interest groups, such as environmental perfectionists, go overboard in their regulations.

The higher sewer and water fees foisted on Manteca for unreasonable state agency regulations that do little if anything to improve water quality is the type of thing many businesses have been dealing with for years.

The cost of unreasonable government regulation is collapsed into the price of goods we buy. So if you think about it, as we have stood idly by and watched government over- regulate business in areas that have little if any impact on public health and safety, we have only helped drive up our cost of living. Worse yet, what measurable increase in quality of life do we have to show for it?

Yes, some regulations are necessary. But before you even start thinking all regulations have justifiable benefit, go talk to a businessman for a few hours.

The election this November isn’t as much about how much taxes we pay as it is about what the state and other levels of government do with those taxes.

It seems improbable you’ll hear any politician this election cycle defend taxes. That’s because a good portion of our taxes today go for things that most of us would not define as basic public needs - and politicians know it.
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