Ruth Bass: Taxes create our trust in daily life



Taxes is a five-letter word. It's not a four-letter word. The sturm and drang emanating from Washington gives the impression that taxes are as disastrous as a Category 4 hurricane, worse than death, worthy of cheating.

Scores of experts make a living figuring out loopholes and end runs. Scores of non-experts do the same and hope they won't get caught. But the reality is that taxes make our world go ‘round.

Even those who protest and whine like driving to work over safe bridges, working alongside educated people and knowing that their aging parents have enough wherewithal so they're not choosing between bread and Coumadin on shopping day.

We put out the lights at night and sleep well [most of the time] knowing that firefighters, police officers and soldiers are awake and ready to pounce if needed, that ambulances will come and snowy roads will be clear if need be.

Taxes create so much of the trust of our daily lives and yet we are thrown into sometimes irrational argument, heels dug in, whenever someone says there's a need to raise them - local, state or national.

Few are the Americans who don't take some pride in finding a way to lower the bill. None of this means the system is fair. How can it be when a family with two homes, a sizable stock portfolio, two cars and no frayed collars or scuffed shoes can sail through April 15 bragging that they've sent nothing to the Internal Revenue Service this year?

So what do we do? It's maddening to even think that the federal government could take away home mortgage deductions on primary residences, but it would seem reasonable to eliminate them for second homes.

For young couples especially, the mortgage deduction is a lifeline to home ownership, even more important if they are still coping with student loans - and a lifeline to housing construction.

It's unacceptable to toss out deductions for charitable contributions, which aid the middle class and may inspire the rich to give more when it helps the bottom line on the 1040.

Tax-deductible gifts of green include not only cash but land. Keeping acres free of development in this country is probably dependent on the attached tax benefits. We are surrounded by the goodness of the charitable deduction, from theaters to open space.

So what can we do? We increase the amount of money collected from the wealthy by whatever means the stubborn guys in Washington can agree on - perhaps compromising on those who make more than $500,000 rather than $250,000.

We don't cut Medicare or Social Security - that would be a clear violation of trust. But we cut more from the defense budget. The American Friends Service Committee [Quakers] point out that 60 percent of our federal spending is for the military.

We should not be that petrified of the rest of the world, and does anyone else wonder what the 30,000 troops in Japan, for instance, do all day? We need to legalize marijuana nationally and stop spending billions of dollars a year for a war on drugs that has achieved little.

A New York Times article points out that we're filling our prisons with people arrested for drug possession, half of whom were carrying tiny amounts of marijuana. Legalize, regulate, stop pretending this war has value.

If Congress weren't in a constant tizzy over getting re-elected, we could also shed pounds of pork. With the courage that seems to come with "last term in office," we may need term limits for everyone in D.C., not just the president. In the meantime, D.C. needs to find cuts and taxes we can all live with.


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