TaxationYesterday I discussed some of the problems with arbitrary tax increases at the local level and also putting high versus low taxes and value for your tax dollar into perspective when a tax increase does occur. That discussion leads to a much broader question that applies to all levels of government: When is a tax increase justified?
There is a school of thought among the Left, and even among so-called "moderate" Republicans that there ought to be a tax increase every time a government sees itself running low on money, or desiring to implement some government program. There are those who do not bother to ask whether a program is absolutely necessary, let alone do the math to know how much it will cost when they pledge to implement the new initiative. A classic example of this is former President Bill Clinton, who in 1992 promised a laundry list of rosy-sounding new federal programs, and made it all sound really great when he said "I will not raise taxes on the middle class to pay for these programs."
I am not the best in the world at math, but I do have a brain. Those of us with a brain who know a little something about how government works also knew that when Clinton said this he either had no clue what he was saying, or that (more likely) he was lying through his teeth. Sure enough, in 1993, Clinton comes before the American people and says "I know I promised I wouldn't raise taxes, but I can't keep that promise." He then preceeded to try and blame his predecessors when it is he who should have been blamed for deceiving the American people into believing they could eat lunch for nothing. His deceit-whether intentional or not-cost the Democratic Party control of Congress the following year.
Governments should never promise the public something that it cannot already deliver within its existing budget-it should not promise them that it will give them things that it can't deliver without a tax increase. If the program is something that the public demands, people need to be made aware that unless this is something that the government has the money to spare for, it will require more taxes to implement. Often, this drives the point home that this is not a "free" program, and forces people to think about what is absolutely necessary from government and what is not.
Ideally, new taxes for programs on a local level ought to be put to a public vote. If a program is important enough to require public funding, let the supporters of the program put their case before the people of that local city or county for the increase to pay for that initiative. Those on the Left who so often accuse conservatives of trying to suppress the vote by daring to require that someone present identification at a polling place are the same ones who are utterly opposed to the public having votes on local tax increases to fund particular programs. There is a fear that no one will ever vote for a tax increase, even for something important. In jurisdictions in this country where such votes already take place, the voting public has shown remarkable discernment about what initiatives to pay for and what to vote down. This is largely because many of these votes take place in off-year elections where those who vote are there because they always vote, are aware of the issues, and they know very well what is important to them-and are just as likely to approve a tax levy as to vote one down. Whether or not an issue is supported or rejected depends both on sensibility as well as how it is presented to the public.
Finally, when a governing body does vote for a tax increase, it should be not only for something that is absolutely necessary (a pay increase to adjust for inflation for emergency personnel might be a good example), but should only be considered after all other means to pay for the necessary function of government have been explored first.