The Reminder of Tax Day

By Jan Moller

With the April 17 tax deadline looming, it’s a good time look not just at what we pay to the government each year but what we all get in return. Because while no one especially enjoys paying taxes, they are the  essential building blocks of a fair and open society that gives every citizen the chance to reach their full potential.

Here in Baton Rouge, taxes pay for one of the best park systems anywhere in Louisiana, where sports enthusiasts of all stripes have a place to play.

They pay for well-stocked libraries, and the roads we drive to get there. They pay the police and firefighters who keep us safe in our homes and the schools and universities that educate the next generation of teachers, doctors and engineers.

At the federal  level, our payroll taxes finance the Social Security and Medicare programs that let seniors live with a measure of security and  independence that were unimaginable just a few decades ago. They pay for the world’s foremost military and the services earned by veterans who return from the front. They pay for the cutting-edge medical research that will lead to new treatments.

If we want a better, stronger society we need to continue investing in these critical services.

In Louisiana, the last few years have seen a series of deep cuts to many key services and a refusal to look for new revenues. Colleges and universities have seen their state support wither and tuition skyrocket. Health-care services are under strain. Roads and bridges face a massive repair backlog.

Conservative critics of the tax system often complain that the rich pay too much and the poor don’t pay enough. But the opposite is true in Louisiana, where the tax system asks the most, on a percentage basis, from those who can least afford to pay. That’s because our tax system doesn’t start and end with the income tax. We also pay sales and excise taxes, property taxes and payroll taxes that are deducted straight from our income.

If you fall in the bottom 40 percent of income earners, in Louisiana – $29,000 per year or less – a little over 10 percent of your income goes to paying state and local taxes. But the top 1 percent of income earners, who make more than $418,000 per year, pay just 5.7 percent of their income to state and local government, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

There is work to do on the fairness issue. But on this tax day, take a moment to reflect on the good things you’re buying. For taxes, as Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, are the price we pay for a civilized society.

They include details about safety-net programs like Medicaid, tax credits for low-income workers and educational scholarships and help promote a better understanding of how safety-net programs affect different communities across our state.
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