A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the statehouse here in Montgomery, where Alabama’s Legislature
hurts our state does its business. Among the various points made in my post were some barbed comments about how the building is a run-down piece of crap that wasn’t even designed to be a statehouse and has, over the years, been allowed to deteriorate, with repairs being done as a series of patchwork and half-assed efforts. In short, it is a dump that limits citizen access to the workings of democracy.
The reason why there are plastic tarps hanging from the ceilings of the halls of the statehouse, collecting vile-colored drippings, is that the state is broke. We have reached the point, as a state, where the reactionary hatred for taxes (and corresponding distrust of all government) has struck bone. By that I mean that we, as citizens, also mostly enjoy having a government to provide services to us. And those services cost money. And the taxes are how the government gets the money to pay for the services. And if I weren’t fatally depressed about the overwhelming stupidity of the populace, I wouldn’t have to be talking in such an elementary way to what is obviously an enlightened and educated blog readership. Paternalistic and condescending? No way!
Anyway, it’s not just the influence of the childish “guv’mint is bad” tea party folks that has caused this failure to comprehend the merits of a government that, say, inspects our food and provides roads for us to drive on. It’s also an instinct that pre-dates the rise of the Taxes Enough Already crowd. It’s the “Git Off My Land” suspicion of outsiders, a resentment of federal courts that used force to end institutional racial segregation, and it’s the naive belief that it’s good social policy to let rich people do whatever the hell they want because you might one day be rich too (even though you won’t).
People also don’t seem to understand that the services they like come from taxes. Nevermind the tiny fraction of simpletons who add Libertarian gloss to their lockstep Republican party ideology, grasping for some sort of intellectual aplomb to accompany their basic desire to be a selfish asshole. No, I’m talking about people who believe that “the market,” will not, in fact, keep poison out of the river or ensure that child laborers aren’t mangled by industrial machines. I’m talking about people who like Medicare, but still hate the idea of Government-Run Health Care™.
All of which is a didactic way of introducing the fact that I went to get my driver’s license renewed the other day and left work a good two hours before the DMV was scheduled to close. I took time off from my paying job to drive across town because, not only do I not want to get a ticket for having an expired license (fear of law enforcement), but also because I actually think there should be minimum standards of competence for people authorized to operate super-dangerous motor vehicles on the highways that we all use while drunkenly texting. Public safety? Yes, a compelling governmental interest. Anarcho-libertarians beware.
And what did I find upon arriving at the DMV, some two hours before they were scheduled to close their doors? An official standing out front sticking a sign on the door saying that they weren’t letting anyone else in because the line was already so long. They were done taking new customers for the day.
So this is the kind of thing that we get in a state where we refuse to tax property at a reasonable rate. Alabama could double property taxes and still be the lowest in the nation. We could not possibly bend over far enough for giant corporations, handing out tax breaks as if they were party favors. We allow LLC companies to deduct all of their federal income tax paid from the state income tax they owe. We brag about the fact that we pay the lowest taxes in the nation.
And what do we get for it? We get failing services. We get courts that are shutting down for entire days out of the week because they aren’t sufficiently funded. We get education budgets slashed, a process we call “proration.” We get fewer State Troopers, fewer restaurant inspections, immorally overcrowded prisons, worse health care for poor people, worse child care for poor people, worse everything for poor people. And we get a DMV that isn’t sufficiently staffed to take customers, administer driving tests, and renew driver’s licenses during normal business hours. We get a backwards collective celebration of “fend for yourself” futility, a nationally-embarrassing gutting of public structures, and a total disregard for the common good.
Go get your driver’s license renewed. Get turned away. Return to sit in line for hours, killing your day. Wait for the cops to come when you have a car wreck. Get sick from a rarely-inspected restaurant. Witness a forest fire caused by a crippled forestry service. Wish for a functioning system of public transportation. Bemoan the admissions costs and status of the facilities at our state parks.
And when you do, think about our tax system.