4.15.11 Giving thanks

I am self-employed, which means that April 15 (or this year, April 18) is always an important day for me. I have to pay any tax I owe from last year, and also make the first of four payments on the money I will earn this year. We call these payments, “estimateds” for short. Usually I have waited until now to fund my IRAs, so all in all, this is an expensive day. Because of that, it is important to me to give thought and thanks for all the things taxes pay for that I use, need, enjoy or want to know exists.

So, in no particular order, here they are:

Infrastructure, such as sidewalks, streetlights, roads, traffic lights, storm drains, bridges, and the like.

Libraries everywhere. I love the Berkeley Public Library, and a few days ago I was in a wonderful library in Medford, OR. I have done hundreds of trainings in libraries all over the United States. Libraries are not just for books (although for me that is the # 1 greatest thing about a library), but also internet access, community meeting space, a central place for posting announcements of events, a source of information from the librarians “(what are 8 year olds reading now?”), etc. Not all libraries are funded by taxes, but most have some help from tax revenue and ideally should be mostly or entirely funded by tax revenue and sale of used books.

Public Transportation: In the Bay Area, BART runs mostly on time and goes a lot of places. Right now I am in Portland, where the bus is free in the downtown area. I know the quality and reliability of public transportation varies from place to place, but when it works, it is really helpful.

Inspections: I spend a lot of time in hotels, airports and office buildings and I use elevators, moving sidewalks and escalators to get to my room or flight or appointment. I love seeing the inspection stickers and knowing regular inspections are required by law. I also eat out quite often and I don’t worry that the kitchen of the restaurant is overrun with rats or crawling with cockroaches because of health inspections.

Social security and Medicare: I am not quite old enough for either of these programs, but I have many friends who are already using them, and I look forward to retiring and collecting social security. I am so conscious that the idea of social security would never pass now, and that Roosevelt would be considered so far to the left as to be unimaginable. A friend said recently, “Why are all programs that help ordinary people called ‘entitlements’ and programs that help corporations and wealthy people called ‘subsidies’?”

Federal Aviation Administration: Flying, although more and more unpleasant, is still the safest form of transportation we have.

Public Parks: the variety of these are astounding, from the major national parks like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite to the magnificent human built city parks such as Central Park in New York City or Golden Gate Park in San Francisco to the small “pocket” parks that provide open space and playgrounds in thousands of neighborhoods—to me, they are all a gift. Who has not enjoyed a park of some kind?

So you get the idea. You go through your week and you notice what you use, what you enjoy, what you rely on, and you think to yourself, “what made that possible?” In many cases, you will see that taxes paid for or subsidized whatever it is.

As Tamara Draught, Vice President of DEMOS, wrote recently, “Without the public systems and structures that taxes pay for, America as we know it would cease to exist. Taxes matter.”