Anne Macquarie: Off the cliff
December 12, 2012
Have you ever wondered why so many politicians refer to citizens of this country as “taxpayers?” I do more as a citizen of the United States than pay taxes. I vote. I serve on a jury when asked. I obey laws. When did paying taxes become, as Jill Lepore wrote in a fine piece on taxation in the Nov. 26 New Yorker magazine, “the defining act of citizenship?”
According to Lepore, the first time Americans were referred to as taxpayers was during a 1938 campaign mounted by business lobbies to repeal the 16th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the one that reads, “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived…”
It was an attempt – very successful as it turns out – to remind Americans again and again about the least-loved benefit of being a citizen of these United States. Benefit? I can hear you asking yourselves – what benefit?
Yes, benefit. As Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote, “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.”
Think of all we would not have if we did not have taxes: roads and sewers and bridges. Clean water. National parks and environmental protection. Schools and teachers. Seaports and airports. Police and fire fighters. National defense. In short, we would not be the prosperous nation we are, if it were not for taxes.
That’s why I’m surprised that so many of our political leaders, especially Republicans, seem to think that their principle role as our elected representatives is to not raise taxes. Signing Grover Norquist’s “Tax Protection Pledge” seems to have become the defining act of being a Republican politician. In Northern Nevada, Mark Amodei and Dean Heller have signed the pledge. So has Pete Livermore.
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The version of the pledge signed by Heller and Amodei reads, “ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”
The one signed by Pete Livermore reads, “I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.”
What does it mean for our leaders to sign these pledges? In my view, it means that they’re abdicating their responsibility to serve us as well as they can, and, perhaps, undermining their pledge as members of Congress to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution.
The Constitution reads, “The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises..” By refusing to raise our taxes under any circumstance, those who have signed Norquist’s pledge are saying that their anti-tax ideology is more important than using the power granted to them by the Constitution to raise taxes for the good of the nation.
Of course no one likes taxes, but we all like the benefits they bring – chief among them the privilege and good fortune of living in a stable, prosperous nation. Is that stability threatened by the looming “fiscal cliff” we’ll fall over if Congress and the president are unable to come up with a reasonable package of tax enhancements and spending cuts?
By signing Norquist’s pledge, Amodei and Heller have put themselves in the situation during these negotiations of either breaking their pledge or contributing to a political stalemate that might plunge us over the fiscal cliff, thereby threatening the economic stability of this country – and pushing us into another recession.
It would be refreshing if they tore up that pledge right now and started to work for the good of us all.
• Anne Macquarie, a private-sector urban planner, is a longtime resident of Carson City.