Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tax fairness

With many Republicans trying to exploit our budget woes to cut taxes and shrink government even further, I’d like to propose a novel idea; tax fairness. Our taxes fall pretty heavily on the middle class and those lower on the economic scale, so the first thing I’d do is make the taxes a bit more progressive. If we lower taxes, lower it for middle and lower income folks. The wealthy don’t need them lowered (and no, trickle down doesn’t work).

But what I really mean is let’s stop giving certain groups favored status; repeal all sales tax exemptions, extend the tax to services, and lower the overall tax. I know the sales tax is regressive, but I’m hoping this plan would spread out the taxes and lower income folks would end up paying less overall.

Of course, the former will never happen. I do have another idea (that won’t happen) that I’d like to toss out for consideration. It has an advantage of raising revenue in, I think, a very fair way, and the further advantage of addressing a big and growing problem in the state.

First off, consider what our Republican friends have been using as a reason that Idaho should lower it’s taxes; Washington, Nevada and Wyoming all have no income tax. Well, WA has a high sales tax, NV has gambling, and WY has oil and extraction taxes. Idaho won’t allow gambling nor rise the sales tax, but we can get some extraction taxes.

I propose a tax on one of our most precious resources; water. Pure and simple, a really tiny tax on each gallon of water consumed that EVERYBODY pays. Those folks making the most money off water, like farmers and industry, would pay the most. Folks like me and you who just drink it and wash with it would pay some, but not a lot.

The reason this is a good idea is that it will spur water conservation, which Idaho desperately needs in some years. Also, it is in the nature of a user fee, which do seem to be favored.

Even with all the talk of “it’s not a good idea to raise taxes in a recession,” the State Board of Education has just allowed higher education to raise tuition over 10%. They haven’t done it, yet, but if they do that is in effect a user tax. I’ve got two kids in Idaho colleges, so I could end up paying about $1,000 more per year. That’s one hell of a tax increase.

I doubt the wisdom of making it harder to educate our work force. I prefer investment in human capital. Taxing water and using the revenue to keep tuition low and award scholarships would give Idaho the educated work force necessary to grow, and would go a long way toward solving our perennial water shortages. A win-win. The losers are the folks who have been getting a free ride on water since, forever.

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