The folks in Spring Hill, Tennessee -- a small town of about 12,000 residents located thirty miles south of Nashville -- believe they have latched on to a good idea. The city leaders recently passed a "taxpayer bill of rights." The next time someone proposes an increase in the inhabitants' property taxes, the voters themselves will have to approve the change via a public referendum. If the taxman's efforts result in a surplus of funds beyond that required to fulfill the city's obligations, that money "will be returned to taxpayers...in the form of a tax rate reduction."
This "surplus," however, refers only to "unbudgeted revenue," such as might arise from sales taxes collected from new stores that open for business in Spring Hill. Unspent "budgeted money" will be retained to pay for future city projects. The mayor, Ray Williams, is happy to report to his constituents that the city has managed to build "a water treatment plant, expand its sewer plant, pave streets, ...a fire hall and library, and purchase police equipment" with the excess money. No additional taxes were necessary.
If the mayor thinks more taxes are called for, he'll go to the voters; "...that, he says, is real democracy." And, of course, he is correct.
Williams also manages to clobber the nail on the head when he says, "'It's not my money, it's the people's money. The easiest thing for government to do is raise your taxes.'"
No truer words were ever spoke...or so misunderstood.
Some state legislators applaud Spring Hill's approach. They want to apply it at the state level to a number of different taxes. According to State Senator Jim Bryson, "...about 40% of a taxpayer's money is going to some form of government." He is sympathetic to those citizens who are crying out in protest, "Enough!" If Bryson's plan is passed, he is confident that the state government will "'be conservative and creative in how it spends its money."
One of Spring Hill's aldermen, Bruce Scotten, though, is not joining in the chorus of hosannas. He does not believe the board requires "'external control' by the taxpayers." Also, in a revenue emergency, they could alter the law "with a single vote and raise taxes the old-fashioned way."
Others are also less than happy about Spring Hill's proposal. People who live outside the city yet own property within that jurisdiction think "they are being taxed without representation." Sounds serious enough. After all, didn't our ancestors start a revolution over that principle?
It's difficult not to feel sympathy for anyone in this country -- especially a politician -- who attempts to limit taxes. After all, year-by-year (with only small retreats) our taxes on all levels of government continue to increase. According to Americans for Tax Reform, the "Cost of Government Day" this year fell on July 11. Only after more than half a year of work does the average taxpayer complete his "voluntary" payments to the government to finance its plethora of taxes, debts, and regulations.
Gluttonous city and state governments gaze groggily about at the trashed remnants of the spending binges in which they indulged during the days of a ballooning economy. Rudely awakened by the dawn of economic reality, they hold their pounding, throbbing heads and feel sick to their stomachs. Like chronic drunks, however, they run from the obvious solution to their problems -- cutting back on the supply of that which led to their fiscal hangovers -- and instead seek to replenish (or even increase!) the demon rum of tax revenue the politicians use to bribe people (with those workers' own money) while keeping a healthy cut for themselves. Every conceivable human activity is fair game for larding on more fees and taxes. For the holy acolytes of the State, too much is never enough.
When someone such as Mayor Williams attempts to buck this devilish trend, criticism almost -- almost, but not quite -- almost sounds inappropriate. Sad though it is to say, however, none of these people have the foggiest notion of the real principles involved. Like our president, they mouth some of the proper words, and they may even shuffle baby steps in the right direction, but if anyone had the temerity actually to hold these crafters of a "taxpayer bill of rights" to their words, the heretic would be banished from the kingdom in an instant.
First of all, the very notion of a "bill of rights" for taxpayers makes about as much sense as seeking to establish a set of "rights" for slaves. At the very core of the concept of "taxpayer" is the immoral and insupportable belief that a person's property -- his money, in this case -- does not belong to him. After all, the concept of "property" means that an individual is the sole determiner of how he will use what belongs to him. His judgment -- and his alone -- is the final arbiter of what portion of his property will be used for what purposes. (That property, of course, represents those segments of his life -- his time, his effort -- he devoted to earning that property.)
In America, however, not a single cent belonging to anyone is -- in legal principle -- exempt from that "real democracy" Mayor Williams praises. Once other people gain the authority, the power to seize by force via the proxy of voting the property of other individuals -- to become legal thieves and robbers -- "rights" vanish. All that remains are "privileges" that can be altered or revoked whenever a big enough mob so decrees. Perhaps a perverted kind of sense can be twisted from a "taxpayer bill of privileges," but such a hollow "victory" would be meaningless.
"Slavery" can be defined as a system in which one group of people disposes of what another group earns. If this does not describe the plight of taxpayers, I don't know what would.
If Mayor Williams truly believed that "...it's the people's money," he would let the people keep it. Make those who want a new library, a new road, a new sewer, a new fire station, make them pay for it. That's known as "paying your own way," an antiquated idea that barely survives as a ghost these days. Instead, what we experience is a tyranny of the majority -- the essence of democracy -- determining for unwilling others not only how much of their money they will seize but on what those not-so-figurative hunks of life will be spent.
Those Spring Hill property owners who live elsewhere and complain about "taxation without representation" are grossly out of step with the mainstream. So what if they can't vote on taxes in Spring Hill? "Taxation with representation" is no more just than is "slavery with representation." As someone once said, "A is A." Silk purses and sows ears: never the twain shall meet. Seeking the power to impose their will on losing voters is no more noble than the voters in Spring Hill forcing absentee landlords to cough up more extorted shekels.
Tennessee State Senator Jim Bryson captures the reality of today's social swamp when he describes government as spending "its money." Its money. You are merely an oxen laboring in the fields while the master rocks on the porch deciding how many hours a day to work you. No Steppin' Fetchit ever acceded more meekly or obsequiously to handing over the crumpled bills stuffed into his grimy pockets than does the average taxpayer. "'Forty-percent...is enough... that's what people out there are saying'," Bryson says.
Forty-percent of your life is okay to have stolen from you? By what magical process was that number selected? How about 30%? Twenty? Ten? Five?
How about: zero!
"Fair" slavery? "Just" tyranny? "Frugal" theft?
Oxymorons, for certain, with the emphasis on the last two syllables.
If all the tax "reformers" truly and sincerely want to fix what is wrong with this country, I can sum up what they should do in seven short words:
Get the hell out of my life.
Sue McClure, "Landowners Living Outside City Limits Want Vote on Taxes." Tennessean.com, 7-29-03. http://www.tennessean.com/government/archives/03/07/36757984.shtml?Element_ID=36757984
Nellann Mettee, "Spring Hill's 'Taxpayer Bill of Rights' Creates Regional Buzz." Tennessean.com, 7-27-03.