There’s No Such Thing As a Tax-Free Free Lunch*

You are not allowed to simultaneously complain about property taxes, the condition of the roads, the availability and cost of parking, and the cost of parking tickets.

Look, people, that whole “no free lunch” thing? It applies to government services, too. The only difference is that we pay for a lot of government services through taxes, rather than direct payments or fees. And if not one, then the other. So, if you like well-maintained, regularly swept and plowed, well-constructed roads, you need to pay for them. They aren’t going to build and maintain themselves.You can build them yourself, if you have that kind of money.

You can have toll roads, where you pay whenever you use them. And, if you truly believe in a “pay for what you use” model, then that means that you pay more to drive your SUV on that road than your Accord.

You can use a proxy for usage, too, such as how much gasoline you consume. Not quite proportional to impact on the roads, but not a horrible approximation, either–generally, the heavier the vehicle, the lower the gas mileage.

You can use tax revenue of one sort or another to pay for them, which probably means that the wealthier you are, the more you pay towards the roads.

Parking is similar: if you want free parking downtown, be prepared to pay for it in higher property taxes, or higher prices in the stores you’re visiting, or something.

So, if you think your taxes are too high, feel free to want them lowered–but first you need to tell me what services you want cut. And, really, if you can’t name at least one service that you actually use, I’m not gonna take you very seriously, because we can all offer to cut what we don’t use, but since everybody uses something, that’ll never get us anywhere.

And “cut waste” isn’t a reasonable answer. Is there waste in government? Probably. Though in many cases, I suspect less than in large businesses. But let’s posit a ridiculously high inefficiency, where 10% of government revenue is wasted. That means that, if we could actually cut every bit of waste and fraud and inefficiency out of the system–which is unlikely so long as government workers and/or citizens are human–that would mean cutting your taxes by 10%. Not 10 percentage points–10 percent. IOW, if you currently pay 40% of your gross income to one sort of tax or another, you’d now pay 36%. And that’s a pretty optimistic scenario. Realistically, cutting “waste and fraud” is more like shaving a percent or two off, which translates to a quarter of a percentage point at the taxpayers end of things.

With one major exception: tax dodgers. Particularly corporate tax dodgers. There’s billions of dollars of revenue going missing because of clever accounting, deceptive bookkeeping, or outright fraud. But on the spending side of government? Not so much–it’s all getting spent on something, even if you don’t like that something.

So, back to my original point: if you get a free lunch, it’s not because it’s free, it’s because it was paid for in some other way. Our roads? They’re not free. In fact, in many municipalities they account for the bulk of your property taxes, right up there with schools. You want free parking downtown? That means you need more roads–or dedicated parking areas–which means more property taxes. And complaining about a $17 parking ticket for parking illegally or too long? In an area where it’ll cost you that much or more to eat at most of the restaurants? That’s just plain ridiculous. And if they raised the parking rates and/or the parking tickets, you’d have an easier time finding a place to park.

*Unless you’re GE, Verizon, Bank of America, Exxon-Mobil, or another large corporation, apparently.

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