Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Taxes: Not a Binary Choice

As the Utah legislature is about to begin, and talk of budget cuts (which will of course come... as is tradition... from education, medical assistance, services, education, and oh yeah, education) is in the air, I've been reading around the talk in other states, to see how our situation compares.

Everyone is feeling it, it would seem. But I thought this explanation from the Las Vegas Sun explaining how Nevada's current troubles came to be applicable to our own situation, and probably that of many other states.

A political class looking ahead to the next election and unwilling to take on the larger problem of a tax system with an inherent structural deficit. A gaming industry that paid lip service to the notion of community responsibility but spit on the proposition that its taxes should be regularly increased. And a business elite that salivated at the profits to be made in a boomtown but whose throats dried up when asked how much they would contribute to the state’s coffers.

If Carson City politicians actually had engaged in a vigorous debate about how the state raises and spends money, if the gamers had agreed to have their taxes raised more often and if the business community had not serially removed its chair from the tax discussion table, we would not be here now. Don’t misunderstand: The national recession would still have hit home. But it would have been better to be cutting from funding levels at or above the national average in a state that had shucked its backwater tendencies than to be slicing bone from bone.

The blame game is hardly productive, though, unless it is instructive, too. This is not, as the ideologically blinded forces of the right and their tools would you have believe, simply a binary choice about taxes.
It's the one factor never mentioned. We cut (which is good), but we do it lazily. We underfund (which is pointless and counterproductive) and we do it too frequently. One thing we never consider -- like a spoiled teen weaseling away from weekly garbage and lawn mowing chores -- is that all budgets need revenue, and all revenue is due for the occasional increase or the system fails.

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