Reasons to pay one’s taxes cheerfully
At my advanced (and advancing) age, it’s not smart to ruin friendships. They are harder than ever to repair and replace.
But I fear I may have just blown things up with an equally ancient pal. You be the judge as to which of us is at fault.
This friend and I were talking on the phone about taxes. He was bemoaning the burden they place on him, a single man in his 70s who lives mostly on a fixed income.
I agreed that taxes can pinch. But where would we be without them? In a world without roads, police, ambulances, schools and many other things we take for granted, I said.
“Schools,” said my (former?) friend, with a snort. “That’s what really gets me.”
He went into a tirade about why he, whose kids have not attended public schools in 35 years, should have to pay taxes for today’s kids to go to school.
“Easy one,” I told him. “Because when your kids were young, some fossil paid for THEM to go to school.”
More tirade: It was a different era then, Bob. Everything cost less then, Bob.
“But you haven’t answered my point,” I said.
Here was his bottom line: It was time to change his permanent residence to someplace in Florida, which doesn’t have a state income tax.
Now the tirade came from me.
I said that would be irresponsible. I said that would be selfish.
I said that would only dump more of the tax burden on those of us left behind. If he left, he’d be ducking a problem, not solving it, I said.
No state can function without money. Florida also has property and sales taxes, I pointed out.
My piece de resistance: Taxes produce better schools, which produce better graduates, who will make a better world “for the rest of our lifetimes, not just for theirs.”
My guy wasn’t having it.
He called me “deluded,” a victim of “feel-good politics.” He said that it’s an every-man-for-himself world, and if I didn’t understand that, I’d better start.
“If you can dodge taxes, you do it,” he said. “Don’t you think businesses do that all the time?”
I pointed out that we weren’t discussing businesses. We were discussing him.
He volleyed that right back at me: “Don’t you cheat on your income taxes to save a few bucks?”
I have better places to spend my declining years than a federal penitentiary, I replied.
He said I was a “naïve fool.” I replied that he’d have a much happier day — and life — if he cared more about others.
As we ended our debate, we somehow agreed to disagree. No phone-slamming. No epithets. No never-darken-my-doorstep-again.
You know how you hang up from a call like that and immediately think of what you SHOULD have said?
I spent the rest of the day writing the lines I wish I had uttered. Lucky duck that you are, you now get to read them:
“Dear Joe (not his real name):
“During our discussion, I neglected to point out the best reason of all for paying state income taxes: They foster civic pride in the taxpayer.
“That’s not some fuzzy-headed, sentimental notion. I actually LIKE paying taxes. Because they mean I’ve done my part.
“I’m not so far gone that I hug every streetlight and say: ‘You wouldn’t exist without me!’
“But we need community in this complicated world of ours. Kicking in my share punches my ticket into that community.
“I agree with you that it used to be a simpler world. But that’s precisely why income taxes are necessary.
“We look to government to solve all sorts of problems that have gotten bigger and harder than they were when we were kids. Those solutions won’t happen unless we all pay for them.
“So, Joe, I will miss you if you really do move to Florida. But you will want and need a community there, too. Do you think it will fall out of the sky, or some orange tree? I doubt it.
“Please reconsider. Do your part. As I happily do mine.
Bob Levey is a national award-winning columnist.