Taxes, morality and ethics:
Voting 'no' only choice left

Sounding Board Editorial #13 (April 27, 2008)

Dennis Foster

     When the issue of sales taxes comes up in the local arena, I am constantly amazed at how easy it is for supporters to make the argument that we should support such a tax, or its expansion, in part because visitors pay a sizable chunk of these taxes.  Well, it happens everywhere, but that doesn't make it right.  How often have you traveled somewhere and, upon inspecting your hotel room bill seen a line item called "room tax?"  It is the same principle - tax people who are just passing through and make them help to pay for local services which they aren't going to use!  It is the ultimate in taxation without representation.  And, yet, it enjoys such widespread political support.  I have never heard anyone raise the issue of the morality of such a taxing scheme.  While we are constantly barraged with issues of ethical behavior, how can such a lapse go so totally unnoticed?  The ballot measure to raise taxes to help fund the bus system has been touted as a sort of kinder and gentler tax since it is a sales tax and we get a lot of visitors in Flagstaff, who really are never going to use the bus system.  So, it's like free money.  I decided to address the issue with this editorial.  This comment ran on April 27.

Taxes represent the seizure of your wealth and income, which is used to fund various governmental services. While there is a basic immorality to forcing our compliance, it is ethical to have a basic structure of government in order to protect individual freedoms. What isn't ethical is to expand and grow government, extending the reach of its coercive power, just because some argue that it "makes sense." Most people believe that the ends don't justify the means. So, for example, even if you believe that particular residents should have access to a bus system, it doesn't justify forcing taxpayers to pay for this system. It is the hallmark of the lazy social activist that individual freedoms can be so easily trumped by government force.

Indeed, one particularly contemptible argument made in favor of these taxes is that visitors will end up paying a substantial share of these monies. Can we possibly think of a more undemocratic process? To vote for taxes on others that cannot vote has got to be not only unethical, but absolutely immoral.

Two years ago, city voters rejected an attempt to make the sales tax and transit tax permanent, and rejected an increase in the transit tax. Despite that, the operating budget for the city has risen from $80 million to $100 million. It seems that the only check we have on insatiable, unsustainable and unethical local government spending is to vote down pretty much any tax proposal that requires our consent.

Dennis Foster has a Ph.D. in economics, teaches at the university level, and is an avid Grand Canyon hiker.

     My comment about "making sense" was a retort to a letter published in the paper criticizing my earlier stance on the bus system.  The author of that letter, Marcus Ford, and I have tangled in print over the years and will likely continue to do so.

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