Let’s talk for a moment about the lack of responsibility some Americans feel toward paying their taxes. I read this morning an online comment that strongly inferred taxes should be voluntary….so as not to be “coerced” by the government into paying them.
There were people like that in the 1780s, too. They teach us a lesson as to the long-held folly of not wishing to pay taxes. Many at the time did not want to pay their share of the debt for the Revolutionary War, contending in some cases that a state had met the burden and should not need to contribute to another state not having the ability or inclination to meet their financial responsibility. Others did not want to pay for military preparedness. In short order, some were shunning the idea of paying for national improvements and even arguing over whether such improvements should be a national concern.
On April 8, 1789–three weeks before George Washington will be sworn into office for the first time–James Madison stood up in the House of Representatives and introduced a tax bill. It was the first bill ever introduced under the new form of government outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
The very first order of business, in the very first session of Congress, was a bill to make sure that the economy was placed on a more sure-footed path, and that manufacturing would be promoted. The means to do that were duties, and tariffs on a whole range of products from rum, beer, molasses, sugar cocoa, and coffee. There was a clear sense of the need for revenue, and while there was a lively debate about the taxes, the bill passed.
I could go through history making the case as to why taxes being levied and paid matter. From the Louisiana Purchase to Henry Clay and his American System, to Eisenhower and interstate highway, to JFK and moon trips, and now to the national war on fighting cancer. The same frame of mind has always existed about moving forward and marshaling the resources of a nation for the projects that enrich society, and aid in the lifting of its people.
I walk my talk, too. I advocated for a wheel tax in both Dane County and Madison, where I live. I pay both units of government for the car I own. I applaud elected officials who are honest about the need for more tax revenues. There are only so many ways that our local government can find the revenues which are required to make sure the needed services can be supplied. State legislative leaders may find glee in starving government funds, but at the local level, where the tire meets the road, we know it takes leadership to make government work. The idea that there is never to be any new tax hikes or ways to reap revenue is a most absurd and untenable position from which to govern.