Utah’s right wing is taxing

by Paul Mero

When it comes to taxes I am definitely prejudiced. I can’t stand them. In fact, I cannot remember a tax increase on a state or local ballot that I have voted for. This past election there was another tax increase on the ballot and, without even thinking about it, I voted against it. It’s not that I refused to think about it. It’s just that I already had thought about it years ago and decided to vote against any and every tax increase.

Maybe moving from an employee to an independent contractor re-lit my anti-tax fervor. All of my business income is taxed as personal income, not unlike nearly every small business. I thought paying $40,000 in taxes was a lot until the TurboTax counter spun up another $40,000 last year. Eighty thousand dollars in taxes! I still almost choke on those words. Maybe rich people are used to those kinds of numbers and have figured out ways to shelter income and avoid paying (I’m thinking Donald Trump). But I’m a regular guy and my heart tells me that regular people shouldn’t have to pay those kinds of taxes.

So, yes, I hate taxes – meaning I’m both a real American and a conservative.

But I’ve had to face an ugly truth: What makes me different than the right-wing ideologues who oppose every reasonable policy that either directly raises taxes or, in the application, requires reallocated or new funds? Here’s what I mean.

The ideologues are all hopping mad at Governor Herbert for embracing online sales taxes. His last campaign opponent ran against him primarily because the opponent runs an online business and opposes online sales taxes. But there are good reasons for collecting online sales taxes. First, it’s simply fair. Brick and mortar businesses collect and pay sales tax. Why should online competitors be exempt from doing so? Second, as a conservative, if you believe in free markets, what is free about a market that uses public policy to pick winners and losers? And, third, there is nothing patriotic about giving lip service to “paying my fair share,” on the one hand, and then actively opposing paying that fair share on the other hand.

For decades, my friend, Grover Norquist, has made a living pushing candidates for office to take the no-tax pledge. He doesn’t distinguish between one tax or another or one reason or another. Unlike Bush senior, when Americans for Tax Reform say no tax increases they mean no tax increases. Period. This line in the sand is an ideological response to decades of out of control government spending. Rather than prudently looking at every public policy, ideologues have said, enough is enough, nothing is getting passed us ever again. That’s the position I’ve taken for years.

But right-wing ideologues are wrong about this knee-jerk approach to taxes. When I behave that way on my local ballot, I’m wrong too. An authentic conservative will prudently look at every policy with an eye to good policy, even policies that cost something. Our prudent exercise should be to discern between good policy and bad, not simply oppose everything because we’ve failed to win political battles or the broader arguments. That’s what petulant little children do – they can’t get their way so they say no to everything. But mature adults can discern and we know that not every policy costing money is bad policy.

We’ve seen this petulance before from right-wing ideologues. They fail to connect realities. For instance, generally speaking, they understand the need for a public safety net to assist our poor and needy neighbors and yet they go into convulsions over every serious conversation about the scope and breadth of the safety net. That’s what happened when Governor Herbert introduced his Healthy Utah plan. The ideologues went nuts when all he proposed was the extent of coverage. The ideologues behaved as if the safety net itself was a new idea threatening freedom.

Governor Herbert’s online sales tax collection agreement with Amazon gets that same kind of reaction. It’s almost as if these ideologues were unaware that people pay taxes, the state collects them and both the revered state and federal constitutions not only permit taxes but mandate them. Yet these ideologues pitch a fit as if collecting taxes was a new idea.

There is a similar fervor over the proposed school tax increase initiative. There might be very good reasons to oppose it; in fact, many good reasons. But opposing it on the grounds that new money is a problem is childish.

Reasonable conservatives see the reality and necessity of taxes. Taxes are not a necessary evil. They are simply necessary for a free society. Reasonable conservatives prudently look at each proposal and judge each on its own merits. For Utah asking Amazon to collect sales taxes is hardly radical. In fact, it makes a helluva lot of sense – that is, if you believe in fairness, free markets, and constitutions.

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