December 29, 2005
A New Year’s resolution for anti-TABORites
By Bill Kraus
Adhere to the Dreyfus aphorism: Never underestimate the people’s intelligence or over-estimate their information.
Most people have only a vague idea of where their tax money goes. The reason is that the people who collect and spend it don’t tell them. It’s like a grocery story customer would get a receipt with one number on it or maybe (as in the case of the property tax) two numbers: food and booze.
In Colorado, for one state, and perhaps others as well, the property tax bill comes with a complete, detailed description of where the money goes:
Elementary schools: $100
High Schools: $50
Voc-Tech Schools: $25
Snow plowing: $1
Fire fighting: $3
Police protection: $5
Garbage Disposal: $2
You get the idea.
Getting this kind of detail on the state budget is more complicated and impossible at the individual taxpayer level, but more thorough communicating can and should be done. Corporate America does it routinely four times a year in their reports to their shareholder-owners.
These quarterly reports are made more explicit with charts. The most helpful is a kind of hourglass graphic that shows where the state’s money comes from and where it goes.
Such a graphic will surprise most taxpayers and astonish the rest. They will learn, for example, that the state doesn’t keep or spend most of the money it collects, that a lot goes to individuals for medical care and most of the rest goes to school boards and local governments.
The state does build a lot of roads, of course, cleans up the environment, runs a lot of goodies like hunting and fishing, but these are not the main event.
If the state published, let’s say, a detailed annual report, like every public business does, the people would know where their tax money goes. It is possible that they will say “too much” or “not there,” but they would at the very least say those things specifically based on knowledge rather than emotion or slogans.
And if they still want TABOR, then tell them that it’s a form of legislative abdication.
But try being more forthcoming first.
It might even work.
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