What are you willing to do without?

In my previous post I talked about conservatives getting their ideal – and what it looks like in reality.   A commenter asked “what level is enough before you tell the government ‘no more’?”   Which led me to this question – what level of government services are you willing to do without?   It’s a question that really needs to be answered first.  Everyone thinks they pay “too much” in taxes.  Most are probably wrong about that, but that’s a different post entirely.   We expect our government to provide certain services, and in order to pay for those, we have to pay taxes.  It’s not free.   What I have seen with various conservative anti-tax crusaders is their disconnection from that reality.     You cannot have a government service, or demand the government take certain actions, without paying for it.

I accept that.  But in listening to many prominent Republicans, I hear them say things that tell me that they don’t.  They want to cut taxes,  but they don’t believe – or want to tell you – they have to cut spending to pay for those cuts.    Then they’ll turn around and posture about the deficit or balancing the budget.   Being rather … realistic … I understand the concept that in a balanced budget,  spending must equal income.  If I reduce income (reduce taxes), I have to reduce spending (government services) accordingly.   Then again, I’m a Democrat, so maybe I’m not understanding the reasoning that the Republicans are using when they say that we don’t have to do it.

We expect our governments to do certain things.  Some of them are required by their organizing documents (their constitutions), while others have been legislated as being for “the common good.”  We may not benefit from a specific service or program, but enough of our fellow citizens do to make it a valid function.  For example, I don’t have children in the local school district, and I’m not going to.  I never attended school here either.  Why should I have to pay taxes for a school system I didn’t use, and will never use?  Why?  Because we, as a society, have long considered it important that people should be literate, that they should be provided with at least a basic education.   It’s a societal good.  So even though I’m not personally using it, I still pay taxes to pay for the school.

That’s just one example, but it cuts across a lot of what government does.  It’s even important to businesses.  Ever look at what businesses consider “important?”  Yes, they may look at the tax burden, and the cost of labor, but they also look at things like transportation infrastructure, educational systems, public safety, and cultural opportunities.   The tax rates and labor costs may be fantastically low in the middle of the Gobi Desert, but getting your product to market is next to impossible, and there’s no nearby schools, universities, or the other things you’d like.   Roads, colleges, schools, police and fire departments, and even parks and theaters are things that add to the quality of life – and enable you to hire good people and get your products made and sent to market.  Which means taxes – because they have to be paid for.

So when asked about taxes, my question in return is:  What are you willing to do without?   If you want roads, schools, public safety, emergency services, and so on, then you have to pay for them.   If you’re not willing to do without something, then stop complaining to me about taxes.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “What are you willing to do without?

  1. Being the one who asked that question, let me say with equal honesty – there’s plenty I could do without the government doing at all. Now you, and likely many others too, wouldn’t like what I say the government should not do. Unfortunately all I can do is dream about my desires about changing government, since our government – liberal or conservative – is beyond changing for the better.

    • I don’t agree with you on that, and you’re still notably short on details. For all you know, I might agree with you on some of those “government shouldn’t do” points. My main point is that there’s a stunning hypocrisy from various “small government” and “anti-tax” people. I saw it trotted out in full force during the BP oil spill, but it happened on a regular basis even before that. Various conservative governors and representatives advocating minimal – or no – government regulation, making thundering pronouncements about the need to “drill, baby, drill,” wanting to cut various government agency functions as an “infringement on state’s rights,” and generally deriding various things as a “waste of money.” Then sudden disaster strikes and they’re screaming for federal help and money. It’s an either/or situation, and there’s a remarkable tendency to want their cake and eat it too.

      That’s why I harp on “what are you willing to do without?” Specifically. As I pointed out with Colorado Springs, its got low taxes, and minimal government now. Just don’t walk the streets at night without a flashlight, and if something happens, don’t expect the police to respond quickly – or at all. You want good roads or mass transit? They cost. If you don’t want to pay for that, then fine, do without – but don’t complain about doing without.

  2. “Just don’t walk the streets at night without a flashlight, and if something happens, don’t expect the police to respond quickly – or at all”

    That’s more scaremongering than factual at this stage. Before we declare the streets are less safe we’d need to see some – at least year long – crime statistics for the city. Also, by the time the police even know to respond you’re already a victim and the crooks – in all likelihood – are gone, to hopefully be caught later. The police – in all but the tiniest percentage of cases – can NOT protect you, only clean up after the crime.

    Yep, I’ll grant you that conservative hypocrisy exists. We are in agreement. Are we in agreement that liberal hypocrisy exists as well?

    I agree that if you don’t want to pay – a reasonable amount (and the idea of reasonable is a completely different argument) – for a service then don’t and dump the service. However, maybe they want the service – just at a reasonable (by their thinking) cost? But I agree they do whine to danged much.

    As for a specific instance: If you want a parks and recreation department make it pay for itself. If it isn’t self-sustaining then cut back or charge more for the use of parks and rec facilities. If I have to pay to use state or federal parks then why not have the same occur for city parks and rec?

    • Oh, absolutely liberal hypocrisy exists, and if you’d scan through my posts here, you’d see that I call it out quite frequently. You might also note that your paying to use federal and state parks does not pay entirely for their operations. That revenue is used to offset some costs – shifting the burden to the users in some cases – and as a method of limiting usage in sensitive areas. It’s one of those things that people take for granted, though. For example, did you know that the Mall in Washington DC is actually under the National Park Service? That’s that big are running from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. It’s free. If you want, I supposed we could charge for walking it, and admission to the Washington and Lincoln Memorials. I doubt that would last long, though.

    • To answer your “scaremongering” charge though, I did do some research. Here’s the interesting thing – it’s been shown that improved lighting can have an impact on reduction of crime. There’s not a lot on doing away with lighting though. It’s also never been done to not only do away with lighting while at the same time reducing the police presence. From the article quoted in the previous post:

      The city fire department is down 20 firefighters this year; the police department has 42 fewer cops on the streets. For both fire and police, there are no classes of recruits in training, which is unusual.

      “In the last year and a half, we went from being a proactive, problem-solving to a reactive police department, to where we only go when we are called,” said Pete Tomitsch, president of the Colorado Springs Police Protective Association.

      Now, maybe the crime statistics will show no change, but the betting money is that they will – and not for the better. I would also consider it a safe bet that most of those residents and businesses will be seeing some hefty increases in their property insurance rates in the near future. So, even if they’re not paying taxes and willing to do without the services – they’re still going to pay.

      • Traditionally, good times or bad, the police department has not had a full complement of officers – one reason being that CSPD has one of the toughest qualification standards to meet. I know many who have applied and few who have been accepted. So for him to sing the shortage song is one that is not new just because of the budget crisis alone.

        As to the CSFD – don’t know their story in this regard.

        I’d also rather see what he defines as proactive policing. About the only thing I could think of, beyond the crime watch awareness kind of general proactive policing, is the regular Friday and Saturday nights saturating Tejon Street to keep down the bar/club related violence/misbehavior that occurs. Personally all this extra policing cost should be charged to the businesses or they can close down.

        I am also betting there will be change in crime statistics – as we see fairly regularly. Yet, how will we define this as directly related in total to the reduction of lights/police presence? It’s difficult to assess these cause/effect relationships. Look at violent crime rates and the changes we see in them. If they decrease do we credit gun control laws? If so, what do we blame when it increases and those laws are still in force?

        Plus, really what this comes down to for me is lets look at the waste going on in government, at all levels. Do we pad too many employees in positions that less numbers could accomplish? Do we pay huge salaries for a lot of administrators to run these government departments? Look at the Bell, CA story where the police chief made 450,000+ for running a 50 person department – more than the LAPD Chief.

        And while I agree that tax monies go to national and state parks – why should they? Why should they not be a self-sustaining enterprise? Why would it be wrong for them not to be?

  3. Plus, really what this comes down to for me is lets look at the waste going on in government, at all levels. Do we pad too many employees in positions that less numbers could accomplish? Do we pay huge salaries for a lot of administrators to run these government departments? Look at the Bell, CA story where the police chief made 450,000+ for running a 50 person department – more than the LAPD Chief.

    One can always find a bad example, and yes, I agree with you. I might also point out that this particular case is the result of the public and the press not paying attention to what their local government was doing. It’s very popular to pontificate on “too many employees” and “bloated government.” Heck, I can listen to my governor do that on a regular basis – and yes, he’s a Democrat. I would be much more impressed by it if I didn’t know that many of the cuts he’s trying are in agencies that have over the past 15 years already been cut by over 30%. No one is looking at the rather large number of prisons (with attendant staffing), etc. That’s why I wrote my post about “define bloated for me.” The environmental protection department has been cut very seriously in the past, and is getting cut again. One of the local forest rangers is retiring, and not being replaced. There are no academy classes scheduled, either. So a patrol area of approximately 1500 square miles gets divvied up between other rangers who already have that much to worry about. There are also cuts coming to other parts.

    That’s just one department, and I’ve seen it in others in my state. Now, yes, I can (and do) complain about the number, pay, and location of the remaining staff for state departments. It’s amazing how many positions that are in the state capital(i.e.; headquarters) remain immune to cuts or expand even as the “field” positions decline. At the same time, the responsibilities required haven’t been reduced.

    And while I agree that tax monies go to national and state parks – why should they? Why should they not be a self-sustaining enterprise? Why would it be wrong for them not to be?

    Because you’re thinking of a few popular parks that might be able to be “profitable,” not the entire park system. The general impetus for a park in the first place is because the land has some significant natural features or ecological importance that needs protection – land held “in common.” That’s what the tax money supports – to protect and preserve that. As an example, the Catskills (which are a state park) are protected not just because they’re ecologically significant, but also because they provide the water supply for New York City. If that protection was removed, then there would have to be several billion dollars spent to build, staff, and maintain water purification systems for the city. Besides that, there are quality of life and economic factors that go with those parks. I used to live in Colorado – right near a national park, as it turns out. The economy of the area was definitely dependent on that park being there. While yes, some manufacturing and agriculture were also important, the park created a “third leg” for the economy. When the park had a major fire, it caused enormous difficulty.

    Getting back to Colorado Springs, what’s amusing to me about the “small government” and “low taxes” concentration there is that if there ever was a place that was dependent on the taxpayer’s dollar, it’s Colorado Springs. Let’s get real – if there weren’t the Air Force Academy, Cheyenne Mountain, Peterson AFB, Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak, and so on around it, it’d be a small town with not much to do.

    • We are in agreement in the ways certain departments always seem to take the cuts, while some is untouchable. I never seem to see the legislature wanting to tighten their belts – just force everyone else to.

      I’m not indicating that parks should not be protected, but if we’re going to provide public access to them for certain recreations then those parks need to charge fees that cover a larger percentage of the costs of operating the park. I live near 3 state parks in Colorado now, and one national park. The $60 bucks for an annual pass to all the state parks was cheap – I’d have paid more in understanding that the monies are needed to keep those parks open and available for the public. The national park – actually monument – charges $15 for a season pass, again an amount that is cheap. I would pay more for the privilege of accessing that as well.

      The problem seems to continue to be that Americans want all they can get for cheap. Our society needs to wise up that we can either pay more where we have a choice or we can be taxed more to pay for it. We may well end up doing both before all is said and done, and once the government gets it they won’t be giving it back. I did some checking about my taxes. If we went to a flat tax, no loopholes, of 25% I would have had to pay almost 4 times more than my liability was this year. I would and would do so without complaint as long as everyone else was doing the same.

      And you are right about the Springs. If it wasn’t for the military it would be a sleepy little town.

      • The problem seems to continue to be that Americans want all they can get for cheap. Our society needs to wise up that we can either pay more where we have a choice or we can be taxed more to pay for it.

        Exactly. In my mind, what people have lost sight of is that taxes = services and amenities. The roads and sidewalks people use every day didn’t just magically appear “for free.” I happen to live in a state park – the Adirondacks are the largest state park in the lower 48 – so I have a better appreciation for that than someone who lives in Manhattan.

        At the same time, I’m also a big fan of keeping an eye on the government, and ensuring that the money is spent wisely – and on what it’s supposed to be spent on. One of the things our previous governor was big on – and our current one hasn’t stopped – is unlocking funds that were supposed to be “locked boxes” to balance their budgets. If we have a tax which is for a specific purpose, it’s supposed to be spent on that, not used for something else. I have no objection to “sin taxes” as a method to induce people to reduce consumption or quit, but I have a big objection to sin taxes where the budget assumption is that people won’t reduce or quit.

        • “I’m also a big fan of keeping an eye on the government, and ensuring that the money is spent wisely – and on what it’s supposed to be spent on.”

          As do I, and there lies one of the biggest problems with government, at all levels. If a tax is voted in for a specific purpose then use it for that purpose or refund the taxpayers. Why would voters agree to new taxes for ‘X’ when we know the politicians will likely shift the focus of that revenue?

          I also get aggravated by Congress in adding every whimsical amendment to a bill that has nothing to do with the bill. Sliding through legislation like this just infuriates me. Congress should be restricted to single subject bills – no amendments unless they pertain to that single subject. Many states do this and Congress should as well.

          Here’s one of my problem with sin taxes. I lived in CA when the state passed the first cigarette sin tax (yep, I was a smoker then). The money was to go specifically to certain types of children health issues. Raised a lot of cash too, until smoking dropped so much they were taking in less than expected – now they had to find funding from elsewhere in collected taxes…..instead of cutting back to match the reduced amounts raised by the taxes. The other is what behaviors we call sins.

          • I might agree with you on what we call “sins.” I never liked the idea that the money is to fund a specific set of programs – for example, here in NY, the original purpose of the tax increase was to fund smoking cessation programs. Which sort of made sense, except for the irony of a cessation program being dependent for its funding on the people it’s supposed to help stop. The recent budget had a big increase in the tax to help balance the budget – hence my earlier statement.

            I’m not a fan of “repurposing” tax monies – and we get a lot of that here. Governor Pataki was notorious for unlocking “locked boxes” for his budgets, and doing a lot of “backdoor borrowing” – shifting things to various state authorities to move something off-budget, or “selling” it to them to get money for something else. The end result are things like our DMV is dependent for a good portion of its funding on a tax fund that was meant for fixing roads, and there’s not enough money in the fund to … fix roads. Governor Paterson antagonized a lot of people in the state with his “sweeping” of funds from various account – including dedicated funds for trail maintenance and environmental protection.

  4. That very shifting is, while not illegal, certainly is unethical. Just flat out turns people against any kind of new tax or tax increases. Can’t say as I blame them.

    Unfortunately that type of behavior is common across the great majority of our states. It’s a bit more difficult at the city and county levels maybe, but even there it occurs far to frequently. It will never cease. Well you could, but – IMO – only by reducing the size and scope of government to a degree that would be too fearful for the large majority of Americans.

    This leads me to feel, more strongly every day, that freedom and liberty have been stripped from us as individuals and as a society. I tend to come to more understanding in the libertarian ideals, though I am still struggling with some of those concepts and how they could/would work out in daily life.

    BTW – off topic. I enjoy the discussion and wanted to thank you for it. I also am enjoying your blog. As time permits I check out more of your writings. Keep up the good work. 🙂