Monday, April 25, 2011

THE STEIGER REPORT: Imagine being able to designate where your taxes go

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 4/24/2011

TERRE HAUTE — Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn that permitting individuals to divert $500 of their income taxes ($1,000 for a couple) to a Christian State Tuition Organization was legal.

You read that correctly, tax money going to a Christian State Tuition Organization (individuals can contribute money to such an organization which in turn then supports the tuition of students attending Christian schools). No, this essay is not about “What about Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu State Tuition Organizations?”

Neither is this essay about what appears to be an obvious violation of the establishment clause of the Constitution. That could be the case. The Supremes didn’t address that. Instead, they ruled that the taxpayers who brought the suit did not have standing to do so. They punted the whole question of the establishment clause but probably made it very hard for anyone else to challenge such arrangements as “taxpayers.” Perhaps when Arizona refuses to recognize a Wiccan State Tuition Organization tax credit and a Wiccan brings suit, the Supremes will be forced to address the more obvious problem with the arrangement.

And neither is this essay about the ongoing march of the Roberts court to narrow access of citizens (unless they have property rights) to the courts for constitutional grievances.

This essay is about something completely different. It is about the radical idea of letting we taxpayers designate where our personal tax monies go in our respective state budgets.

Think about it. Empower taxpayers to designate each year the proportional distribution of our taxes to the state budget. Instead of trusting our ridiculous politicians to be statesmen or to balance interests, we could relieve them of that burden (and power). If politicians believe we can navigate complicated things like a retirement investment portfolio, mutual funds, and Medicare Part D (and our tax forms) why not let us designate how much each of our personal dollars goes to education, public safety, road repair, poor relief, and parks and recreation?

If we extend this to the federal level we, the taxpayers, could directly decide how much of our personal taxes go for corn subsidies, sugar subsidies, oil company subsidies, or for research, environmental protection, food and drug safety, education, Medicare and Medicaid.

Admit it, this is a great idea. The more concentrated is the power to make these decisions, the easier it is for special interests to influence (or buy) our money! Some expensive tickets and a ride on fancy corporate jets seem enough to buy the votes of many legislators, but try buying the favors of 100 million taxpayers.

No doubt special interests would run all kinds of campaigns to woo we controllers of the purse strings, but they would have to do it in the open, and while it may appear sleazy for our legislators to be seen in the company of lobbyists, the same would not be true for we individual taxpayers, since it is OUR money, not theirs.

Few dispute the upside of large group decision-making (some call it the market). There are probably about 100 million taxpayers; who are we to say they are wrong if they decided to defund corporate welfare but fund earned benefits like Social Security and Medicare?

Screw the polls. Politicians read them self-servingly anyway, and they seem to read elections even worse. Look at the overreach of the Democrats following 2008 and now we are seeing the overreach of the Republicans in 2010. Give us, the voters and taxpayers, the power to fund or defund, not indirectly through rigged elections but directly through control of our personal taxes. Talk about local control!

The fact is that not nearly as many people vote as could, but I bet if people could designate how their tax monies were to be spent, we’d see virtually 100 percent participation in that.

Both conservatives and liberals rally to the call of “power to the people.” The politicians in charge may change, but are we satisfied with the results? If we could designate how our individual tax monies are spent, we would have no one but ourselves to blame. To a large extent, the politicians would be irrelevant (and wouldn’t that be a good thing?) and instead, our neighbors become much more relevant. (All the more reason to get to know them!)

I imagine the day when I can decide: more money for lower tuition at our colleges and universities or more money for another weapons system that the Pentagon doesn’t want?

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