Thank God for Taxes
July 13, 2012 7:55 AM   Subscribe

...But most of all, I am emerging from this drama with a renewed appreciation for the value of my taxpayer-supported public services. The Berkeley Fire Department did right by me — not only by saving most of my house from burning to the ground, but also by demonstrating real human kindness and connection in the middle of fire and chaos. In the rubble, I found magic. And in a strange way, I feel like I deserved it. In Berkeley, we are addicted to high taxes — in the 25 years I’ve lived here, I can’t even count how many times I and my fellow citizens have said a resounding yes to yet another tax hike or bond measure. Two weeks ago, I got my money’s worth.

Via
posted by latkes (86 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
This. I don't now about you guys, but I can't pay enough taxes.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:59 AM on July 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


I pay more taxes than most people, being self-employed, and every time I log into EFTPS to pay, I remember the mostly clean air, the drinking water that comes from my tap, the car that will do amazing things to keep me alive in an accident, the food that's safe to eat, so safe I don't even THINK about it...

No complaints. I'd pay more if we got national health care.

I paid a staggering amount in Europe, so much that people Stateside gasp when I tell them what my income tax percentage was. But for my money, I got national health care, a cheap public transportation network that could take me anywhere in the COUNTRY for a reasonable speed and price, a retirement pension that was exceedingly generous, generous social welfare programs for those truly in need...

Again, no complaints.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:04 AM on July 13, 2012 [36 favorites]


Why do we band together as a society, if not for the common good?
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:05 AM on July 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


@ Devils Rancer: lately it seems only so we can destroy people who think differently.
posted by papercake at 8:07 AM on July 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Want to get the U.S. economy really moving? Burn everything down.

I ... don't know if I'd go that far.
posted by ODiV at 8:08 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I may have missed it, but it didn't look there was any mention of Prop 13, which drastically changed social services in California by restricting property tax increases.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:09 AM on July 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Yet somehow, in the midst of all that madness, one of the firefighters had had the presence of mind and sensitivity to gather together some items that obviously held emotional significance for my family."

Heroes.
posted by quodlibet at 8:09 AM on July 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


You'd sell a whole lot of marshmallows and hotdogs but I doubt that'd be enough to kickstart things.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:10 AM on July 13, 2012


This immediately reminded me of the story of the house in TN that burned to the ground because the owner hadn't paid the $75 surcharge.
These are your options, folks.
posted by mfu at 8:11 AM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


An organized, professional and effective firefighting system is a hallmark of civilization. Bravo.
posted by ChrisHartley at 8:13 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


The house two doors down from me burned half to the ground (like, one half of it burned to the ground and the other half didn't; nobody was hurt; the heat of the fire melted the siding on the garage next door), and the fire department was AMAZING. They were there within two minutes of the fire starting. Within twenty minutes it was extinguished. There were ten trucks on our street (they took up the whole block!). They had dog-catching and doggie-oxygen equipment (the family dog wanted to run back in). They had two liaison officers there, one who liased with the family and the other who liased with the neighbors, so we knew what was happening and what would happen next. They walked the homeowner through calling her insurer, they talked to the gas company. They answered questions from little kids who were fascinated or scared.

They were fast, efficient, professional, and empathetic. I had never seen firefighters in action and it is amazing.

The station closest to me doesn't have a pumper truck, just a ladder truck, because of cutbacks. What would have been different if the pumper truck was still at station 11? The first pumper truck would have arrived two minutes sooner and there would have been $30,000 less damage.

Essential services first, local pols! Safety, sewer, schools, streets, sidewalks -- all of that BEFORE developer handouts and civic arenas and other vanity projects.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:14 AM on July 13, 2012 [43 favorites]


I love subscription services. Taxes at their best are a nice bundled subscription for all kinds of basic civilization.

Seriously, if I could somehow spend 60% or 70% of my income as a single yearly payment and get decent housing, security, food and services it'd be a no-brainer.
posted by postcommunism at 8:14 AM on July 13, 2012 [12 favorites]


Seriously, if I could somehow spend 60% or 70% of my income as a single yearly payment and get decent housing, security, food and services it'd be a no-brainer.

Isn't that pretty much the Scandinavian Model?

I don't begrudge my taxes, except when it gets wasted on stuff like training athletes for the Olympics. Fuck that, when there's no user pays on them like there was on my education.
posted by Mezentian at 8:17 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


>> Why do we band together as a society, if not for the common good?

Uhm, so there are people to polish my monocle and top-hat of course.
What... was that not rhetorical?
posted by TomStampy at 8:17 AM on July 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


The only time I ever had to invoke the fire dept. we could hear the sirens before we were off the phone with 911. Total heroes, the lot of them. Running from a burning building is right up there in the top 10 traumatic experiences of my life -- it's some scary shit. My hat's totally off to anyone who runs INTO burning buildings for a living.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:24 AM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


A wonderful story, but the sort of logical fallacy that would get murdered in other threads. Unless everyone's house starts burning down.

I don't now about you guys, but I can't pay enough taxes.

Really? Even at 100%? I'm not knocking taxes and I'm on the pro-tax side here in New Hampshire (where, perversely, one has to argue with the much poorer that they would be better off raising taxes), but c'mon.
posted by yerfatma at 8:30 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only time I ever had to invoke the fire dept.

Was a burning pentagram involved?

Taxes are great. I don't even really resent the part that goes to fund bombing campaigns or no-bid Halliburton projects, even though I'd far rather the money get used cleaning up rivers and feeding children. I would far prefer a higher-tax, better service model for the country, but good luck convincing my fellow voters of that.

It's weird, because fifty or sixty years ago there was basically a bipartisan consensus in favor of this model, and now that has totally vanished.
posted by Forktine at 8:34 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why do we band together as a society, if not for the common good?

When White Jesus gave his speech on the shores of the Galilee and all those freeloaders showed up with no lunch what did he do ?

He busted out some fish and some loaves of bread and ate it all right in front of them! So as to teach them that Communist Socialism is bad, bad, bad.

Then he went and cured a blind dude, but only after verifying that his health insurance was up to date and that he was gainfully employed by a job creator.

You tax and spend libotards could learn a lot from White Jesus.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:34 AM on July 13, 2012 [38 favorites]


I take overdue fines at the library, and there's a majority of late book returners patrons who actually say "I don't mind paying because it's like a donation to the library." That's fine that they're justifying their payment, but none of that money goes into the library's coffers. It gets re-routed to the more general Community Services Fund. Anyway, sometimes what I tell them is that if they appreciate the services of the library and don't mind paying for it occasionally, then they should pay their taxes.
posted by carsonb at 8:36 AM on July 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


Never fails to get a funny 'WTF?' look from them, by the bye.
posted by carsonb at 8:36 AM on July 13, 2012


And the anti-tax crusaders who have taken over our society don't want to pay for other people's disability retirement benefits environmental cleanup air traffic control health insurance either, until they or their loved one gets sick and needs to rely on public services. Then suddenly they rediscover belief in the collective good, when's thier asses drawing the benefit of societal investment.

But don't worry, surely you'll one day have enough money to pay out of pocket and buy your own MRI machine if you tear an ACL and can't make it up the ladder to your roofing job, this is the land of the free and the most properous country in the world.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:37 AM on July 13, 2012


postcommunism: Seriously, if I could somehow spend 60% or 70% of my income as a single yearly payment and get decent housing, security, food and services it'd be a no-brainer.

Eponysensible.

yerfatma: Really? Even at 100%?

I pay a lot in taxes already. I pay more in taxes than many people's gross income. And yes, I think that 100% taxation would be better than the crumbling wreck we're living in now. America is gone. It's over. The rich are looting the ruins. What's not being taxed by the government is being taxed (de facto) by the rich people hiding behind corporations.
posted by univac at 8:38 AM on July 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


So I was driving across the country during the latest heat wave, just prior to the 4th. Naturally, crossing the south and the midwest, there was a lot of conservative folks discussing issues of the day on the radio. This was interspersed with reports of many cities cancelling their professional firework displays because of the extreme fire danger. These audio cues were interspersed with firework tents on the side of the highways.

And the idea occurred to me, that maybe, just maybe, all the "I can't hear you over the sound of my Freedom!" folks, braying about their high taxes and their fears of Obamacare, might cause the entire great plains to go up in a flaming cauldron of burnt grasslands and smoldering mobile homes.

And they would have pretty much gotten what they deserved...
posted by Windopaene at 8:48 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I get a lot more value out of the taxes I pay than I do from the health insurance premiums I pay.
posted by vibrotronica at 8:49 AM on July 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I ... don't know if I'd go that far.

Ok, burn down 30-35% of everything?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:53 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


And the idea occurred to me, that maybe, just maybe, all the "I can't hear you over the sound of my Freedom!" folks, braying about their high taxes and their fears of Obamacare, might cause the entire great plains to go up in a flaming cauldron of burnt grasslands and smoldering mobile homes.

You mean like when Colorado Springs cut city services including numerous firefighting jobs because they didn't want to pay more taxes? Seems like that worked out well.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:58 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just burn the bridges.
posted by postcommunism at 9:00 AM on July 13, 2012


America is gone. It's over.

Not to call you out specifically, but this general sentiment: The reason our politics have gotten so apocalyptic over the years is that even the side we agree with makes statements like that one.

Both extremes, the "pay no taxes!" and the "shut up and pay more taxes!" are hurting us. It is always proper to debate the addition of a new tax, or to inquire about how existing money is being spent. As mentioned upthread, I sure don't like my money going to sports stadiums.

I think it would be a good step forward if the IRS sent everyone a once-per-year analysis of how your taxes are spent and what you receive for them. Every country should do this, really. Then I could hold up the US version next to the Swedish version and see (what I could be getting/what they are over paying for).
posted by BeeDo at 9:00 AM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


I do try to think of paying my taxes as paying the government bill. I like having government, but it's expensive, so like any other big-ticket purchase I moan and groan about it but understand you get what you pay for.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:00 AM on July 13, 2012


This. I don't now about you guys, but I can't pay enough taxes.

I, for one, would be happy to pay for fewer invasions and aerial drones, as well as fewer pretextual traffic stops, cavity searches, asshole TSA employees, drug warriors, and CIA black sites.

Since National Security cost the federal government between $1.030–$1.415 trillion this year, and the federal budget was only $3.796 trillion, it looks to me like I should be able to expect much lower taxes than I currently pay in a just world, even after we pay for firefighters.

Taxes are the membership dues for civilization, but let's not pretend they're only being spent on shiny happy things like fighting fires. Americans are paying to belong to a pretty expensive and violent club.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:01 AM on July 13, 2012 [22 favorites]


Pogo_Fuzzybutt: "Why do we band together as a society, if not for the common good?

When White Jesus gave his speech on the shores of the Galilee and all those freeloaders showed up with no lunch what did he do ?

He busted out some fish and some loaves of bread and ate it all right in front of them! So as to teach them that Communist Socialism is bad, bad, bad.

Then he went and cured a blind dude, but only after verifying that his health insurance was up to date and that he was gainfully employed by a job creator.

You tax and spend libotards could learn a lot from White Jesus.
"

Gospel of Marshall...
posted by symbioid at 9:05 AM on July 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


In my town the local Fire Protection District is a frequent target of complaints from anti-tax people about how bloated and over-pensioned it is. And I will often say "Have you ever had to call 911 and have the Fire Department show up? Because I have, and will always be grateful we have a well-equipped Fire Department, and I do not begrudge them a decent retirement."

And that usually ends that conversation.
posted by ambrosia at 9:07 AM on July 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Really? Even at 100%?

I'm pretty sure I was being sarcastic.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:08 AM on July 13, 2012


"Or how about the lifesaving value of insurance..."

Replacement Cost, people, replacement cost.
And once a year, make sure you go through and note anything new that may have shown up. New computer, new grill, whatever.
posted by madajb at 9:08 AM on July 13, 2012


Despite saying yes to every tax, Berkeley isn't woven from fiscal magic.* Every year, the public school teachers I know ask the parents of kids in their classes for donations of paper, pencils, and glue.

Which the teachers I know buy with their own money because the state, which funds the schools, doesn't.

* except for the Cheese Board, a worker-owned Co-op. Now that place is magic.
posted by zippy at 9:10 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I live in a town that chooses not to pay people to fight fires. The town doesn't even allocate enough tax revenue to purchase the required amount of fire fighting equipment. It's not like I live in rural West Virginia town filled with octogenarians. I live in suburban New Jersey and everyone either works on Wall Street or has a professional practice or business of some sort.

I guess I'm screwed if my house ever catches on fire.
posted by otto42 at 9:11 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


America is gone. It's over. The rich are looting the ruins. What's not being taxed by the government is being taxed (de facto) by the rich people hiding behind corporations.

What a preposterous thing to say. Do you ever travel? Do you ever see other countries? Do you ever see other parts of your country? America is a very very long way from perfect, but it could do much worse. Or do you sit at home watching MSNBC all day and listen while they tell you what's going on?

Also, taxes are great when they buy you valuable, efficient services, like fire departments and libraries and post offices. But taxes suck when they buy you drones and humongous congressional pensions and a million other things. Just blindly saying "I love taxes" seems unbelievably naive. Good taxes are good, bad taxes are bad. Liberals focus too much on the good taxes, conservatives too much on the bad. For every "the fire dept was so great" story there is another about elected officials catering their weekend sessions with $20 bagels.
posted by pdq at 9:12 AM on July 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


ZenMasterThis: "Really? Even at 100%?

I'm pretty sure I was being sarcastic.
"

Pretty sure, but are you 100% sure?
posted by symbioid at 9:13 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Pretty sure, but are you 100% sure?

Only fools and MeFites are 100% sure of anything.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:25 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


For an alternative view, see Scranton, PA.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:34 AM on July 13, 2012


Why do we band together as a society, if not for the common good?

'Cause Tom makes the best ribs and Donna makes the best cocktails and by banding together, we allow them to specialize for our common good.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:37 AM on July 13, 2012


For an alternative view, see Scranton, PA.

I'm not sure if this is better or worse than my localities strategy, which is to endlessly threaten to cut services unless everyone pays "just a little bit more".
posted by madajb at 9:40 AM on July 13, 2012


I'm aware that taxes are the price of a functional system, bit I truly wish that as taxpayers we could allocate how our taxes are spent. I think if people could choose where the money was spent, we could finally draw down the military we have stationed around the globe, we could stop funding agribusiness like Monsanto, and we would see a vast increase in social services. But then, I'm an optimist.
posted by dejah420 at 9:51 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


pdq: What a preposterous thing to say. Do you ever travel? Do you ever see other countries? Do you ever see other parts of your country? America is a very very long way from perfect, but it could do much worse. Or do you sit at home watching MSNBC all day and listen while they tell you what's going on?

America could do worse. And it has done better by its citizens, economically. That's exactly my point: the trajectory is both maddening and frightening. I don't believe I've ever watched MSNBC. But I get the sense from reading this site that the current generation of college graduates is very insecure about its prospects for a gainfully-employed future. I know that the rate of unionization is declining precipitously, particularly in the private sector, and with the decline, wages and benefits are also declining. I know that the baby is being drowned in the bathtub by the Norquists and the Tea Party. Just this week, another California city declared bankruptcy. The workers in these bankrupt cities (and there will be more) will lose their healthcare. (Yes, I know, they will be made to purchase health "insurance," but that is not quite the same thing as health care.) Some will die as a result.

If you do not think these are problems, then you and I are not on the same side, I am sorry to say.

Do you ever travel?

I do.

It was heartbreaking, in a way, to return from Europe and from Japan to what passes for public infrastructure in our country.

Tomorrow I leave for the developing world, which generally speaking is where many of our manufacturing jobs have gone. I'm beginning to think that the best way to deal with the actions of capital across borders is to bolster the global workers' movement, such as it is.

Maybe that's not the answer. I don't know. But there is a problem in this country. Right now. And there is nothing wrong with pointing that out.
posted by univac at 9:58 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems to me like this guy's insurance company is going to be after him in about 20 minutes for "negligance" because he didn't make sure his grill wasn't dumping coals under the deck.

For his sake, I hope not.

That said, yay firefighters, who are awesome and do a rather difficult job.
posted by bilabial at 9:58 AM on July 13, 2012


I'm aware that taxes are the price of a functional system, bit I truly wish that as taxpayers we could allocate how our taxes are spent. I think if people could choose where the money was spent, we could finally draw down the military we have stationed around the globe, we could stop funding agribusiness like Monsanto, and we would see a vast increase in social services. But then, I'm an optimist.
posted by dejah420 at 9:51 AM on July 13 [+] [!]

I would do the opposite, except for the Monsanto thing, but add GM, Solyndra, Amtrak, and Archer Daniels Midland.
posted by otto42 at 9:59 AM on July 13, 2012


It's a lovely theory, dejah420, but do you think people will allocate their funds wisely? Think of things like infrastructure maintenance, AIDS research, long-term science, etc. Tyranny of the majority and all that.
posted by introp at 10:01 AM on July 13, 2012


Will Smith (the actor)

“I’m a black man who didn’t go to college, yet I get to travel around the world and sell my movies, and I believe very firmly that America is the only place on Earth that I could exist,”

Smith begins. “So I will pay anything that I need to pay to keep my country growing.”

But when the interviewer informs Smith that the new president of France, Francois Hollande, has proposed a 75 percent income tax on earnings above 1 million Euros, the actor balks.

“Seventy-five?” asks Smith. “Yeah, that’s different. That’s different. Yeah, 75. Well, you know, God bless America!”


http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/will-smith-men-in-black-3-french-tax-rate-326252
posted by otto42 at 10:04 AM on July 13, 2012


It was heartbreaking, in a way, to return from Europe and from Japan to what passes for public infrastructure in our country.

Yes well, it helps when you get an incentive to rebuild from the ground-up around 1945 or so.
posted by yerfatma at 10:21 AM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


The only thing more obnoxious than the tea party crowd is the faux-celebration of taxation by online liberals.

The vast, vast majority of your tax dollars don't go to fund firefighters and roads and stuff. That's small potatoes. Most of it, instead, goes to a) subsidies for old people, which in turn create a massive voting bloc utterly opposed to any other expenditures for fear their subsidies will end and b) the indiscriminate bombing of Muslims worldwide.

Progressives are so caught up in Tea Party narratives that they feel the need to reflexively support a system which creates massive inequities both at home and abroad. It's sad.
posted by downing street memo at 10:29 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, I've been volunteer firefighting and working rescue squad for a couple of months now. And it's not that I live in a rural area-- in fact, I live in one of the top 10 largest cities in TN-- but it is a place that is vehemently anti-large government and anti-tax. And it's been very interesting to see, up close and personal, what that actually means for fire and rescue and other emergency services.

So the way our system works is like this: we have City Fire and Rescue (CFR), and they are a corps of professionals, completely with rippling arm muscles, beer guts and walrus mustaches. But they operate within city limits and only within city limits. Which is great, except that our county is about 12x time size of the city. Which means the rest of the county, which contains several adjacent towns that have fairly populated areas, a LOT of tobacco farms (which are a huge fire hazard, due to the whole practice of seasoning the tobacco in a smoldering barn in the fall) and a good deal of scrubby forest, is all serviced by volunteer fire departments.

There are four volunteer fire stations and one central fire and rescue squad (that's where I'm at.) And I recently learned-- get this-- the annual budget for the entirety of all five stations is $200,000.

$200,000. That's less than my engineer uncle earns a year. When you're running calls in a hazmat truck, or a vehicle rescue truck, or on a pontoon boat capable of towing other boats in distress, when you're running a Turbodraft on a diesel engine to help increase the pressure blowing through your firehoses, that's... that's.. barely gas money. That's a drop in the bucket. Do you know how much a good, used pumper would cost us, to replace the one that sitting out back and has been for the past ten years and has been so cannibalized for parts that at this point it just looks like a hulking skeleton of a beast? At LEAST $450,000, that's what. Rescue equipment is not cheap. But it saves lives.

We are expected to do our own fundraising. We sent out mailers last year-- 600 of them. We got $87.56, because people do not realize what emergency services do, and how little of your tax dollars we actually see. "But I pay my taxes, and ___ % of taxes go towards emergency and security!" you say. And what that means, now, is that a large chunk of whatever you just paid goes to private security companies that contract with DHS to provide security for the mayor down at City Hall. I would be very, very surprised if publicly funded rescue and emergency saw $0.01 for every $1 paid in city and county taxes. Paramedics in our county get paid $10/hr, if they're lucky. $10/hr. For one of the dirtiest, grittiest, most dangerous jobs around, with the longest hours.

And here's the thing that really burns me (ha!) about all this. We are a volunteer county-- you cannot possibly claim that our budget is bloated and full of overinflated pensions and wages, because we do it for free. We do it because we love our community and we love our work. And yet local government is still not willing to fund us, to throw us even the slightest scraps, and it is, without question, our lives that are endangered by this. Our brush truck is from 1992 and overheats. Our firefighting apparatus on our boat is from 1994. We wanted to-- at the station's own expense! We were all going to pitch in to buy the equipment!-- refurbish the old hazmat truck that had been out back for 3 years into a rehabilitation vehicle, because it has air conditioning. That would have meant when we were out in our structure gear [1] fighting the fourth brushfire of the goddamn day in 105 degree weather (true story), we would have had a place to put firefighters we had pulled off the line due to heat exhaustion. There would have been cold water, a sink, bench seating for 8, air conditioning, a place to change clothes and for your fellow first responders to check you over if needed. (Our rehab now is either a two-person cab on the front of the first responder vehicle or whatever shade we can find if there are too many people.) We asked our EMA director if we could have the truck.

Two days later the order came back. We were supposed to go ahead and refurbish the truck. Get it cleaned up, get the engine in working order-- so the county could sell it, and the money would go right back into the general slush fund, to be sent out to someone else's pet project. 50 man-hours of mechanical and cleaning work to fund someone else's goddamn department.

Our air packs, one of our most vital pieces of equipment, could be carbon-fiber-- half the weight and a third the size. They could have heat-proof RFID chips that monitor our location, so if a ceiling falls in on our heads our buddies know where we are to drag us out. We could have face pieces that have speaker boxes, that let us talk to one another on scene. But instead we have City Fire's cast-offs (and they took a significant amount of crap for giving them to us, because, surprise! They were supposed to be sold!) Steel bottles on old rigs. Because if one of us dies, well, that's not great press, but By Gum He Was a Hero to His Community, and never mind that in all likelihood that death could have been prevented if only, for chrissakes, we had the staff or the funds to make sure all our air bottles were hydrotested and up to date.

I have never in my life been faced with such concrete evidence of what a hatred of taxation, a lot of very sketchy politics, and a lack of community-minded thinking means. When people learn I'm a firefighter and ask me questions about it, I tell them, "Hey, if your house ever burns down, we'll do our best." What I actually mean is, "We'll do our best, but I'm really sorry. We don't have the people or the equipment or the response time to stop it, and it's because your local politicians have decided to play games with your safety."

So if you want to make a very big change in your community, one that will affect everyone to the good, start looking into how emergency services work in your part of the world. It would take a lot of effort in your town, I'm sure, to bring these shortcomings to the attention of the public. But I'm not asking it for us-- I'm asking it for you: you when your car rolls over and we only have one set of extraction equipment, you when your apartment building burns down and we don't have the attack line we need, hell, you when your cat gets stuck up a tree and not a single one of the volunteer departments has had a ladder truck for the past 10 years.

You're worth it.


-------

[1] We should have wildland firefighting gear for brush fires, which is significantly lighter and cooler and is much easier to move around in. We don't, of course, because the county-- shocker-- won't pay for it.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:45 AM on July 13, 2012 [172 favorites]


downingstreetmemo: "The vast, vast majority of your tax dollars don't go to fund firefighters and roads and stuff. That's small potatoes. Most of it, instead, goes to a) subsidies for old people, which in turn create a massive voting bloc utterly opposed to any other expenditures for fear their subsidies will end and b) the indiscriminate bombing of Muslims worldwide."
Social Security and national defense represent right around 28% of my total non-sales taxes (16% and 12%, respectively). If I factor in sales taxes they're both down near single digits.
posted by introp at 10:47 AM on July 13, 2012


I have no problem subsidizing old people. Even if I don't make it that far, my grandparents are there now and my parents will be soon.

The bombing is an issue, yeah. So are subsidies for industries that create short term stability at the price of systemic longevity.

Taxes are still a good alternative to handing ultimate control of social fundamentals (such as healtcare) over to entities who don't answer directly to me or my representatives, but to the ultimate profit of a relatively small group.

Not that everything should be covered by taxes, necessarily. But certain social bedrock shouldn't be designed to extract profit from the communal "us."
posted by postcommunism at 10:49 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hear this faint sound, the sound of hundreds of MeFites flagging WidgetAlley's comment as fantastic.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:51 AM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Liberals focus too much on the good taxes, conservatives too much on the bad. For every "the fire dept was so great" story there is another about elected officials catering their weekend sessions with $20 bagels.

The difference between these two examples is that $20 bagels and $400 Pentagon hammers are few and far between but public schools, firefighters, and Medicare benefit *all* of us, every day, yet they are given equal weight in the debate. In fact, the $20 bagel-ers are winning.

Yup, let's call out all the grossly wasteful, but how do you not let that play out in the media as GUBBMINT FATCATS ARE WASTIN ALL MAH MONEY ON STOOPID SHIT!

Do you know any public servants that aren't working harder and harder every year with less and less, because of this Tea Party Crap? Seriously, any? Do you know any public servants that aren't performing essential services for less than their time is worth? How many families can you think of that would be better off, healthier or more secure or productive, if the government worked just a little bit more in their interest?

No, I don't want to pay 75%, but I do want to see more of these so-called America-loving patriots appreciative of the tax rate we enjoy and the things we get for them, and maybe, just maybe contemplate the idea that there could possibly be more that's worth doing collectively as a nation.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:52 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


For every "the fire dept was so great" story there is another about elected officials catering their weekend sessions with $20 bagels.

And why is that? Have you ever asked yourself why it is that there are so many such stories about $20 catered bagels and public school teachers swimming in pots of liquid gold and charging plastic surgery and tanning beds to their Visas and getting reimbursed by their Cadillac health insurance policies while they laugh and give the finger to the little guy and sleep on the job till the day they can retire on million-dollar pensions that the rest of us subsidize and corrupt filthy union bosses lighting their Cuban cigars with the shirttails of weeping starving foreclosed middle-class property owners? We have a Fox affiliate here that broadcasts a "WASTE WATCH" story (the all-caps are for the shouty and fiery and ax-grindy way in which these stories are delivered) every other night. One of the recent "stories" was about how godawful and wasteful and porky the freaking census is.

No, I don't believe that for every story about tax dollar usefulness there is a corresponding and equivalent story about tax waste, graft, corruption, and greed. Because it's in someone's interest to delude me into thinking that there is -- namely, the Grover Norquists and Charles and David Kochs of the world. "Your money is being wasted" is a codeword hiding a Trojan horse for "we'll cure that by cutting and austerity-izing to the point at which you'll have to pick apart the pulped mangled bone fragments on the asphalt to figure out what's around anymore that's an actual government service."

And because if there is such a corresponding and equivalent story, it's actually not being reported at all by the media -- because it's going on behind closed doors and almost invariably to the benefit of some "wealth creator" or some giant megacorporate conglomerate or the lobbyists representing their interests.
posted by blucevalo at 10:59 AM on July 13, 2012 [14 favorites]


handing ultimate control of social fundamentals (such as healtcare) over to entities who don't answer directly to me or my representatives

... and who do you think your representatives answer to?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:59 AM on July 13, 2012


$20 catered bagels and public school teachers swimming in pots of liquid gold and charging plastic surgery and tanning beds to their Visas and getting reimbursed by their Cadillac health insurance policies while they laugh and give the finger to the little guy and sleep on the job till the day they can retire on million-dollar pensions that the rest of us subsidize and corrupt filthy union bosses lighting their Cuban cigars with the shirttails of weeping starving foreclosed middle-class property owners?

This is DEFINITELY going to be the theme for our next fundraiser.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:01 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why, to the Koch Brothers, of course. Who else? That's sure who my reps here in good ol' Tennessee answer to!
posted by blucevalo at 11:01 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


who do you think your representatives answer to?

Sure, that's another crack where problems can squeeze in, expand, and break things.
posted by postcommunism at 11:03 AM on July 13, 2012


And here's the thing that really burns me (ha!) about all this. We are a volunteer county-- you cannot possibly claim that our budget is bloated and full of overinflated pensions and wages, because we do it for free. We do it because we love our community and we love our work.

Maybe you're part of the problem. One of the things anti tax people fall back on is the idea that services will be taken care of by well meaning folk doing stuff to benefit the public at large out of the goodness of their hearts. The only way this changes is if you decide to let the market function, withdraw your volunteer services, and and let cheapskates get a dose of anti tax freedom, good and hard.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:05 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


let cheapskates get a dose of anti tax freedom, good and hard

That's been done with fire departments elsewhere, as per several FPPs. It didn't end well and there was no collective lesson learned or calls for improvement, just resigned headshaking all around.
posted by postcommunism at 11:16 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Social Security and national defense represent right around 28% of my total non-sales taxes (16% and 12%, respectively).

No: national defense is about one-third of the federal budget this year, but since we run deficits, it's almost a 3/5 of federal revenues, and about 64% of income TAX revenues.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:16 AM on July 13, 2012


The only thing more obnoxious than the tea party crowd is

State-planned starvation? Genocide? Being raped to death by Reavers?

the faux-celebration of taxation by online liberals.

...ah. Your Room 101 won't have rats eating your face, won't feature you being tortured to death. Not having your limbs torn from your body while Prince Humperdink rubs lemon juice on the stumps. For you, the worst thing in the universe is reading an electronic message telling you that the author doesn't mind taxes.

You should get together with that guy from the commercial who can't think of anything worse than standing in line at the post office and explain your positions to, say, Dee Xtrovert, wherever she's gone to.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:21 AM on July 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Maybe you're part of the problem. One of the things anti tax people fall back on is the idea that services will be taken care of by well meaning folk doing stuff to benefit the public at large out of the goodness of their hearts and money. The only way this changes is if you decide to let the market function, withdraw your volunteer services, and and let cheapskates get a dose of anti tax freedom, good and hard.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:05 AM on July 13 [+] [!]


I added "and money" after "hearts", because the market doesn't really function on love and rainbows.
posted by otto42 at 11:24 AM on July 13, 2012


Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah that comment about carbon fiber bottles should be half the weight and TWO-thirds the size. (Lord I wish they were that small!)
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:24 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea: No: national defense is about one-third of the federal budget this year, but since we run deficits, it's almost a 3/5 of federal revenues, and about 64% of income TAX revenues.
My point is that federal income taxes are, depending on your income level, often quite a small fraction of your total tax load. State and local taxes represent a large chunk of mine. Even if the federal government spent 100% of its budget on national defense, that would only amount to about a 50% share of my current and future tax payments (at current rates).
posted by introp at 11:34 AM on July 13, 2012


2N2222: So basically you're saying that we should stop pretending like the market was made for humans and instead become humans made for the market. Fun plan.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:37 AM on July 13, 2012


I think it would be a good step forward if the IRS sent everyone a once-per-year analysis of how your taxes are spent

But they do! Or did: when I received a physical tax form once a year, there was a page or so with a rough breakdown of the Federal budget. And of course now it's very readily available online (or at any public library, I'm sure). If you're interested in it but don't read it that's nobody's fault but your own.
posted by hattifattener at 11:40 AM on July 13, 2012


My point is that federal income taxes are, depending on your income level, often quite a small fraction of your total tax load.

That's fine. It's just not what you said.

My point is that the federal government puts a social service fig leaf over its primary function, which is the management and legitimization of violence. That was downing street memo's point, too, and since you attacked (him? her?) it seemed relevant to correct your math.

One question, though: if both progressives and the tea party agree that the federal government is bad and we all ought to just depend on our state and local governments, why do we have such a massive federal government and spend so much time focusing on who will run it?
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:44 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have never in my life been faced with such concrete evidence of what a hatred of taxation, a lot of very sketchy politics, and a lack of community-minded thinking means. When people learn I'm a firefighter and ask me questions about it, I tell them, "Hey, if your house ever burns down, we'll do our best." What I actually mean is, "We'll do our best, but I'm really sorry. We don't have the people or the equipment or the response time to stop it, and it's because your local politicians have decided to play games with your safety."

I really, really, really think you should be telling people this, somehow, somewhere. You're a volunteer. People need to know.
posted by odinsdream at 11:45 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah that comment about carbon fiber bottles should be half the weight and TWO-thirds the size. (Lord I wish they were that small!)

When it's sidebarred, perhaps you can ask the mods for a fix? :)
posted by jokeefe at 11:50 AM on July 13, 2012


But they do!

I have never seen that, but I'll look for it next time around. Although that sort of thing is readily available on wikipedia.

But that's not what I meant: I meant show each person, specifically, what they get. Like, "this part of your taxes paid for 20 miles of road upkeep." I doubt it would be too hard for them, the IRS are the ultimate data miners.
posted by BeeDo at 11:58 AM on July 13, 2012


That's been done with fire departments elsewhere, as per several FPPs. It didn't end well and there was no collective lesson learned or calls for improvement, just resigned headshaking all around.

It didn't end well for the persons who refused to pay. IIRC, these incidents were particularly notable pecause the victims really could have paid. One guy refused to pay even after he'd received FD help the first time, probably because he figured after the first time, they'd eat the cost again. If there was no collective lesson learned, there's only so much enabling one can do.

2N2222: So basically you're saying that we should stop pretending like the market was made for humans and instead become humans made for the market. Fun plan.

I don't know what in the world you're talking about. What I am saying is that you can't complain about the lack of public funding for services when your volunteer work is one reason why the public can't see reason to fund these services. After all, some well meaning volunteer will pick up the slack, right?
posted by 2N2222 at 12:04 PM on July 13, 2012


I'm not sure how responding to "Most of [your tax dollars], instead, goes to a) subsidies for old people, which in turn create a massive voting bloc utterly opposed to any other expenditures for fear their subsidies will end and b) the indiscriminate bombing of Muslims worldwide." with the point that, no, most of my taxes don't go toward those things is either an attack or wrong? downing street memo's statement is either misstated (did he/she just mean federal income taxes plus social security taxes?) or demonstrably false. I didn't attack him, only pointed out the contradiction with fact, which is an invitation to restate, refine, or revise.
posted by introp at 12:14 PM on July 13, 2012


On average, Americans pay about 37.5% of our income to various federal (income) taxes, while on average, state taxes only take up about 22.8% of our income, including sales and property taxes. So while for most people his statement is true, there are of course exceptions. But identifying an exception in that instance doesn't feel very useful, especially since your specific factual claims were also incorrect.

In general this seems like the problem with taking the plural "you" as a singular "you." He wasn't addressing you personally, just Americans as a group.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:28 PM on July 13, 2012


I don't now about you guys, but I can't pay enough taxes.

How Un-American!
posted by homunculus at 2:24 PM on July 13, 2012


Where are you getting those numbers, anotherpanacea? (This is an honest question, not a jab.) I suppose we're defining an average taxpayer differently? As a simple example, the latest data that the IRS has published about individual tax returns (2009; 2010 data isn't yet available that I know of) shows that for the 138 million tax returns filed that year with positive AGIs, the average federal income tax rate was 11%. Total federal burden comes in around 18-22%, depending on how you define "average" and "tax" and "credit."

My OMB data doesn't jibe with yours either. According to all the numbers I have here in Virginia that I gathered when the whole "nearly half of all americans don't pay tax" debacle this spring, I can't seem to get to where you are. I have a feeling we're passing each other in the night?
posted by introp at 2:26 PM on July 13, 2012


On average, Americans pay about 37.5% of our income to various federal (income) taxes, while on average, state taxes only take up about 22.8% of our income, including sales and property taxes

Is that 22% of what's left over after the 37%?
Because 60% seems a little high..
posted by madajb at 2:28 PM on July 13, 2012


Yes well, it helps when you get an incentive to rebuild from the ground-up around 1945 or so. And have a different country pay half of the cost and provide free military protection for the next 67 years.
posted by caclwmr4 at 4:01 PM on July 13, 2012


Yes well, it helps when you get an incentive to rebuild from the ground-up around 1945 or so.

I think it's unlikely that the US would implement a public works project to raze a few economically important American cities. However, I'd like to recommend a few candidates, starting with not_self.location
posted by zippy at 6:33 PM on July 13, 2012


but none of that money goes into the library's coffers. It gets re-routed to the more general Community Services Fund.
OK, but how are the libraries funded from the first place? (I love libraries. Within reason.)

a retirement pension that was exceedingly generous
That is causing lots of problems for places that do that. It cannot continue.

Seriously, if I could somehow spend 60% or 70% of my income as a single yearly payment and get decent housing, security, food and services it'd be a no-brainer.
1) There are places like that, sortof. Sooo.....
2) (If you live in the US) In the US you're probably already paying over 50%, how is that working for you?
posted by caclwmr4 at 7:59 PM on July 13, 2012


You know, the more I think about it, the more I believe a totally 100% iron clad loop hole free flat tax solves a lot of this. We're suspicious and resentful of taxes because we know rich people have always gamed the system. If we just sucked it up and said: "here's your bill for living in this great country, please pay it. Its the same rate Donald Trump pays. Freedom isn't free. Oh by the way, if you don't think it's being spent the way you like, here's when the Senate appropriations committee meeting is on C-span and heres how to find how your representatives voted this year" we would be much better off.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:53 PM on July 13, 2012


According to all the numbers I have..., I can't seem to get to where you are. I have a feeling we're passing each other in the night?

The big difference is that I'm using tax incidence theory: so, even though businesses are the ones that actually remit sales tax, I'm treating it like it's paid by the consumer. The same for social security and medicare, and corporate income tax.

However, yesterday I was working on my tablet and I can't quite reproduce my work. I think I mixed up some average rates with effective rates in my numbers above, but it comes out about the same. Notably, though, the margin is smaller and the federal tax rate is significantly lower.

Given that that's what we're arguing about, I apologize for the error.

Here are my numbers and sources:

Military and National Security Outlays: $1.030–$1.415 trillion
Total Federal Budget: $3.796 trillion
Total Federal Revenue: $2.469 trillion (from above)
Total Federal Income Tax revenue: 2.006 trillion (from above)

That gives 70.6% for the percent of federal income tax revenue spent on national security, which is a bit more than I came up with before. Again, I apologize.

Average Federal Income Tax Rate: 12.6% (pdf)
Average Federal Payroll tax rate: 7.8% (from above, although I was initially using this from 2003)
Effective rate of Payroll tax paid by employer: 7.8% (matching)

The effective average corporate tax rate was 12.1%, which gets passed on to consumers as higher prices or to shareholders as lower dividends so for tax incidence-sake you've got to decide how to apportion it. In 2008 it came to about 1.8% of GDP, but the "effective" numbers for this year will take a while, given corporate accounting practices.

So now I'm getting 30.1% for federal income taxes, which is obviously different from what I came up with above.

For state and local income taxes, the US average effective rate was 9.8% in 2010.

The average sales tax rate (state and local) is 9.6%, and though that's not an effective rate, income is only really valuable if you spend it (though groceries are exempted in some states .)

The average property tax rate is 10.1%, and this will be basically identical with the average effective rate because landlords pass it on to renters. Of course, this is nothing like an effective rate, because we don't spend 100% of our income on housing: one statistic I found suggests we only spend 34.1% on housing). So the effective state and local housing tax rate 3.4%.

That puts the effective state and local tax rate at 21.75%.

I found one study that shows that total state/local revenues are only about 9.2% of GDP, which might help us check my work, but it's hard to figure out income from macroeconomic stuff like GDP.

Of course, a lot of this is based on a simple econometric error, because we don't just pay taxes, we get benefits: the *effective* tax rate should be easily derived from Disposable Personal Income divided by GDP, which in in May was $11.86 trillion divided by $15.09 trillion, (subtracted from 100%) that's a kind of crude dead weight loss of 21.41%. Doing it this way adds back transfers payments and the positive benefits of government like the aforementioned firefighters. (I'm not actually using the term dead weight loss correctly here; you're supposed to do something complicated by figuring out the voluntary lump sum each tax payer would actually substitute for the gov't services and add that back in. GDP probably overvalues government services and undervalues technological innovation over time, so it's pretty controversial whether the number is anywhere close to this in "reality.")
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:04 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


For every "the fire dept was so great" story there is another about elected officials catering their weekend sessions with $20 bagels.

Is that in reference to this story?
posted by naoko at 6:24 AM on July 14, 2012


ambrosia: I think most people are okay with giving firefighters a decent retirement. I think some people have problems with using overtime to pad pensions.

I also think most of the small-government-low-taxes people say this mostly about federal taxes - this is the case for me at least. I'd much rather pay more for firefighters than for illegal wars and drone strikes.
posted by renataskyfire at 4:50 AM on July 16, 2012


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