Berry: Does Ohio need a taxpayer revolt?Written by Thomas Berry | | email@example.com
Having lived for years near the beautiful rivers and sloughs of central California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the only levees with which I was familiar before moving to Ohio were the long earthen embankments that contained the delta’s tranquil waterways and protected the islands between them from flooding.
It didn’t take long after my arrival in Ohio to be introduced to a different kind of levy, one measured not in lineal distance or cubic yards of fill, but in dollars taken from the taxpayer by force of law. Of course, I have no issue with paying taxes, so long as they are just, but having participated in the Proposition 13 taxpayer revolt of 1978 that shook California’s property tax assessment structure to its core, this was not an especially happy learning experience.
(Before we go any further: Prop 13 most emphatically did not cause or contribute to the financial crisis now wracking California’s government at all levels. The taxpayers put limits on how their property could be taxed; the politicians failed repeatedly to control spending commensurate with those limits.)
Several comments in recent issues of the Toledo Free Press about the seven-headed monster of levies on the November ballot provide perspective on why Ohio could stand to see a Prop 13-style revolt.
In the July 15 edition, Publisher Thomas Pounds laid out the statistics of how much homes of various values will be taxed if all the levies pass. He also referred to the levies as “investments.”
I beg to differ. An investment is made voluntarily after the investor determines that a profit is likely to be made on the deal. It is not confiscated from the investor at gunpoint, as are taxes. If it were, it would be the same as a protection racket: “Invest in our services, and nothing will happen to you.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) notwithstanding, taxes are not voluntary.
In that same column, Mr. Pounds worried that “ . . . fewer voters [will be] willing to reach deeper into their pockets” to fund these levies. And there is the heart of the problem. It is not a matter of voters choosing to reach deeper into their own pockets; it is one of voters authorizing the government to reach deeper into the pockets of others.
Unseemly as that is, I suspect this problem may be exacerbated by the mortgage crisis. The more voters who lose their homes, the more voters there are who will not be directly affected by the levies, and who can vote for them with abandon because someone else will have to pay the tab. Voters who do not own homes can happily vote for all seven levies; and if the levies pass, the homeowners get the bill regardless of whether they approve.
There’s also the matter of local income taxes. If the voters in a given jurisdiction vote to raise their local income tax rate, those who work in that jurisdiction but live elsewhere are forced to pay the higher tax, even though they have no right to vote on it. “No taxation without representation” is a stirring slogan; even though it’s not in the Constitution, I have yet to hear a cogent explanation of how this highway robbery is just.
Mr. Pounds thinks it logical that higher voter turnout will help pass the levies, but expects the economy to put a damper on that outcome. I expect very strong opposition to the levies, because so many moderates and conservatives who will turn out to hand President Obama his pink slip will vote down the levies at the same time.
The July 29 edition had a lengthy article on WSPD host Fred LeFebvre’s “What About Don?” perspective on the levies. To review, “Don” is homeowner and taxpayer Don Zellers, who is portrayed in the discussion as an everyman suffering “levy fatigue” from the barrage of government requests for more and more of his already scarce money.
What about Don? The voters who can vote for levies without paying them see Don’s wallet as low-hanging fruit, in the language of one Toledo councilman, ripe for the picking. Despite the grossly illogical mathematical concepts such a classist perception requires, they see Don, a middle-class homeowner, as a member of the mythical 1 percent whose money must be confiscated and “invested” for the good of the masses.
As easy as it is for those who see the government as the means to get what they want at the expense of others to impose levies on others without paying them themselves, it’s little wonder Toledo is dying. The tree of Toledo taxpayers is going to stop bearing that precious low-hanging fruit.
Thomas Berry is a member of the Children of Liberty.