Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"I like to Pay Taxes. With Them I Buy Civilization"

That quote was from Oliver Wendell Holmes and kind of sums up how I feel about taxes. They are inevitable and the price we pay for living in a progressive country.

But every election campaign, candidates will focus on lowering taxes, like they are driving out the devil himself.

Most ignore the promises once elected, or worse fulfill them, like Jim Flaherty did with the GST, and look at the mess it made.

And speaking of messes, how about the promises of his counterpart, George W. Bush. "The Congress will push me to raise taxes, and I'll say no, and they'll push and I'll say no, and they'll push again. And all I can say to them is read my lips: No New Taxes."

Enough said.

CBC News online ran a great opinion piece recently, written by someone with a lot of common sense.

Why I should be paying more taxes
June 19, 2009
By Robert Smol

Last month, the hard reality of my growing professional success struck me, yet again, in the wallet as I proceeded to pay the government that which I still owed on my already high tax bill.

Am I frustrated? Absolutely. But not for the same reasons that many of my fellow grumpy, overworked middle-aged cohorts are frustrated with what they have to hand over to the public purse.

I am frustrated about not having the chance to pay more taxes.

Now, I am no government lapdog, as my earlier columns on this site would indicate. 'Let me tell you how it will be, cause I'm the taxman.' (Canadian Press)

More often than not, I can be found in full complaint over any number of issues, from health care in our hospitals to teaching standards and the size of our military. But it has dawned on me as I have documented these shortcomings that nothing will change if I as a citizen am not prepared to put my money where my mouth is.

We are us

At school, I repeatedly tell my business students that the best quality goods or services come at a cost. As an entrepreneur, if I want the best quality employee, or shipping or internet service, then I must be prepared to pay. Why then am I made to seem like I have grown a horn when I suggest that the same business-like mantra apply to our government services?

Of course, just like in the so-called real world, taxpayers should insist that what governments provide be efficient and cost effective.

But if we want top quality nurses, doctors, teachers, police and soldiers — and in the numbers we feel we need — we are simply going to have to come up with the cash.

We are not a desperate have-not nation. Nobody is going to turn to the philanthropic CEO or rock star when a real pandemic, earthquake or military/terrorist attack comes our way.

Instead, we will have to turn to whatever we, as a society, have collectively managed to store up to help us in a time of need. It is a reality I saw first hand when my military unit was deployed to Eastern Ontario in 1998 to assist during the famous ice storm.

While we scrambled through our relatively meagre military supplies to muster every available tool — chainsaws and generators — to help the local population, we discovered some local merchants were inflating the price considerably to rent or buy these items.

Because we hadn't set aside enough public resources in the first place, we ended up paying quite a bit more when the call went out for help. It is a parallel I can't help seeing being replayed in our current economic situation, with the federal deficit now shooting up so dramatically as Ottawa tries to plug holes everywhere it can.

Being selfish

So, with this in mind, here are the reasons why I feel I personally deserve to pay more into the public purse. I will try to leave the rest of you out of this. It is not my intention to pick and choose who should be ponying up. Rather it is simply for selfish reasons that I want to pay more.

I want to pay more taxes because I want to be assured of the services that will ransom me and those who might one day take care of me from the harsh realities that life will inevitably leave on my doorstep, whether it be sickness, old age, natural disaster or economic meltdown.

Come desperate times, I do not want to put my trust in those whose sole purpose is to turn a profit from my fears or my pain and suffering.

These are collective anxieties we all share and I'd like to be assured there are enough public resources set aside to deal with them, as there was during my parents' and grandparents' eras.

We boomers are going to be making extra demands on our social safety net as we age, everyone tells us. It behooves us to start contributing more now to pay for those needs.

Not a bottomless pit

Obviously, the public purse is not a bottomless pit and future governments will have to make some unpopular decisions on the allocation of scarce resources. But surely there is more at stake here than just decisions about the allocation of future government services.

Doesn't the equilibrium between the right of individuals and corporations, like the car companies and others, to draw from the public purse come with a corresponding obligation to keep it full?

I for one feel I should pay more. I don't want to point fingers everywhere but it is hard to see how those corporate entities with their hands out now shouldn't be prepared to pay more later, particularly if we don't want to mortgage the cost of maintaining government programs on future generations.

I frequently hear successful managers and CEOs say that their employees are their greatest resource. A productive, healthy and well-educated work force is, I believe, what makes a company, and ultimately the economy, successful.

I also believe that a modern, accessible and efficient infrastructure is needed to make the economy attract and grow businesses.

The last places then where we should be making any cuts are health care, education and security as well as the infrastructure that makes for a highly mobile and efficiently telecommunicating society.

Call me selfish but I feel I deserve to live the twilight phase in my life in a progressive and caring society where I am taken care of through a generous and financially solvent public health-care system and social safety network supported by the taxes of a highly skilled and educated workforce.

It is a model that has worked for me so far. And I'm happy to pay more to keep it going.

Now that I'm a grandparent, I'm more concerned with the kind of Canada my grandchildren grow up in. I don't want them paying in the future for services I'm receiving today.

I want a politician to tell me how they will make better use of the taxes I pay, not just threaten to reduce government revenue, when I know that vital government services will no doubt suffer.
Be courageous, be smart and be fair. That's all I ask.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives are none of the above.

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