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Taxes: your investment in the future

Taxes. It’s that time of the year again. Taxes. Everyone grumps about them. No one wants to pay them, and everyone has to. It has been the same story since knights roamed the Medieval countryside and Robin Hood’s men fought to defend the poor.
Just like you, I have poured over receipts, income and donation documents. I have dug through file cabinets, computer records and even waste baskets. And, all the way, I huffed and puffed, raided the refrigerator a lot and paced the floor. What a torturous way to fund a society. And when I finally turned my papers over to the accountant and later wrote the checks, I didn’t want to think about all of those numbers for another year. But wait. Maybe I have this tax thing all wrong. Maybe I am only jumping in at the middle of the process.
What are taxes anyway? An investment, I guess. Now, how do I handle other investments? Well, I try to research what the conditions are in the area in which I am considering investing. I do this by talking to others, reading background information, asking experts for advice and sorting through the various analysis. Next, I must form an opinion as to what I want the outcome to be. Then, I act upon my decision.
Now, if I were buying a car, I would check out the reputation of the make and model I am looking into buying. Then, I would explore what new options were available on the particular vehicle I was considering. Of course, I would need to test drive the car and later do a bit of haggling over the price. During the years of my ownership, I would refer to the owner’s manual as to best practices of driving and maintenance. In other words, I would be responsible for my investment.
This is basically the same process we are asked to follow during a political campaign: get informed and take a stand behind a candidate who represents our views or hopes for the future. Oh yes, it is all about the future. What will I choose to invest in to make the future what I want and need?
Now, let’s see what the majority of us do with the investment of our taxes. We grump, we pay and we leave the use of our dollars to someone else. During pre-election campaigns, we study the candidate but get weary trying to clarify the issues. After the elections, we go back into our grumping mode and then pay taxes the next spring.
And we wonder why we become frustrated and our country gets off track.
Ours is a representative and a participatory form of democracy. However, we seem to interpret that participatory part very narrowly. We wouldn’t invest in any other purchase with as little attention to accountability and results. And, thus, we often get what we pay for and even deserve.
I recently heard four ex-mayors and the current mayor of Indianapolis discuss the condition of that city. They all agreed that working as a team, not only within each administration but also between administrations, was one of the most important elements of the city’s success. Taxes are part of the teamwork ingredient for citizens. If we pool our money, we can do things as a community that would be impossible for us as individuals.
But here is the catch. We want the services and the amenities of a progressive community, but we don’t like to pay for them. We live with a government that assures us the freedom to change leaders when we don’t like what they do. In a system where we pay and go our merry way, we don’t understand why and where our dollars go.
The Indianapolis mayors all acknowledged that the city has needed a mass transit system for many years and hasn’t even started the planning. They all declared that our traditions of political and governmental operations would not allow for it. Who would propose taxes to be levied on their watch to provide for such a big undertaking?
We in Southern Indiana can do better than that. But, in order to know what we want and need and what we don’t want or need to pay for, it is wise to do some planning right now. I don’t mean the experts. I mean all of us citizens in the old-fashioned, get-together-and-figure-it-out sense. We need to actively monitor our investments now that we have faced April 18 and paid up.