Taxes! What Are They Good For?

October 11, 2012

You know who likes paying taxes? Take it away, former mayor Mel Lastman. N-o-o-o-o-body! Except maybe Jesus who bade us to render onto Caesar what was Caesar’s and Oliver Wendell Holmes with his belief that taxes made for civilization.

Both partisan based rhetorical flourishes, if you ask me. Who takes a look at their pay stub, sees all the tax deductions and thinks, at least I’m contributing to a better society? It’s only about a grudging acceptance. Death and taxes and all that.

You know who thinks they’re over-taxed? Everybody. There’s never been just the right amount of taxation. That balanced point where you’re sure you’re getting absolute value for money. No extras. No gravy. There’s always a sense of couldn’t this be done less expensively, more efficiently.  It’s all about a grudging acceptance. Death and taxes and all that.

Only the obdurately ideological, those suckled on the teat of anti-government sentiment that has been ours for over 30 years now would senselessly argue against the notion of taxation. Oh, hello, Councillor Doug Ford.

“We’re against all taxes,” he said in March. “All taxes are evil as far as I’m concerned.”

You’re welcome, sir, for all the roads you drive on regularly, and for the protection our police constantly offer your brother to keep him safe.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong jumped aboard the mindless train this week at the Executive Committee meeting during a discussion on transit funding strategies. Referring to the list of various revenue generating ideas in the City’s CFO report, the councillor said, “That’s like asking which poison would you like to drink? Would you like the hemlock? Would you like the rat poison? We should be asking them, would you like to take that poison?”

This from the mouth of our chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, folks! You know, all that stuff we need to build in order for the city to function properly? How do we undertake such massive endeavours? Taxes, that’s how.

Councillor Ford and his fellow libertarian thinkers seem to believe that all good things flow from the beneficence of the private sector. You want new subways? Just ask nicely in the form of a P3 or AFP model and you’ll get your shiny new subways. It won’t cost the taxpayers one red cent.

The councillor is either being supremely disingenuous or displaying a mind blowing ignorance of how these things actually work.

Transit is funded and operates only in two ways as far as I know. Through direct government subsidies (paid for by taxes) or the fare box. If there’s another system at work that’s slipped my notice, I’m all ears.

By its very profit making nature, the private sector doesn’t build public transit without the expectation of making, well, a profit. Somebody has to ultimately pay them. That someone? The taxpayers.

So we either do it upfront with government laying out the cash as we go (in all likelihood with the help of Councillor Ford’s much vaunted P3s and AFPs to help reduce costs) or we pay later through fares to use the service. Even at that point, it’s no certainty that a private company can recoup enough profit to maintain fares and service levels at a point that makes public transit an attractive option to riders or beneficial to the transportation needs of a region. How do you strike the proper balance between the profit motive and public good? Usually from the public purse.

Yeah, we’re back to taxes again.

And this talk of needing to sit down with other levels of government in order to work through their expected contributions? Or going cap in hand, as our mayor used to deride his predecessor. Where do you think they’re coming up with the money? Errrr, taxes.

Besides, given our pressing transit needs, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for either Ottawa or Queen’s Park to come riding to our rescue. The federal government just defeated a bill on a national transit strategy, something every other developed country has. So I’d put them down as a ‘Don’t Give a Fuck About Transit’.

As for the province, they like to give the appearance of giving a fuck about transit in the GTHA, with their big plans and detailed maps but so far I’d say it hasn’t exactly been a priority in practice. We’re expecting a funding plan from Metrolinx next June, five years after the Big Move was unveiled. Five years! Their involvement with Transit City in Toronto has been as much about playing politics as it has been with building anything. They’ve hardly earned a reputation as honest brokers on the transit file.

But who can blame them? We’re all operating in a sweet smelling haze of dishonesty when it comes to providing public services. We want them but we don’t want to pay for them. We hate taxes but we desire what they pay for. Nothing comes for free except everything we take for granted, it seems. Roads, police, subways that stop right out front of our single family detached house with a big front lawn and an even bigger one in the back.

No wonder we hate governments and the taxes they demand from us. They continue refusing to deliver the pots of gold at the end of the rainbows the leprechauns riding on unicorns convinced us were coming our way for no money down, no interest payments ever.

finger pointingly submitted by Cityslikr