April 2004
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Day April 17, 2004

Why I’m happy to pay taxes

I have a good friend who’s a libertarian, so I’m led periodically to reflect on whether there’s a point to the minimalist notion on taxes and government. And since Thursday was Tax Day….

Analyzing how my income taxes are used is a daunting task, if you’ve ever looked at the Federal Budget. So instead, I happened to see my property tax bill last night, sitting in a pile on my desk. I set for myself the task of determining whether I feel like I’m getting full value for my property tax dollar.

I’ll pay $109 this year for the Port of Seattle. That includes the airport, which I use several times a month on average. Over the course of the year, I make around 20 trips, maybe more. That’s about $5.45 per trip to avail myself of the airport services. Not too bad. And that’s if I disregard the other Port services that might benefit me indirectly (e.g., shipment of goods which boosts the local economy). So I think this is a bargain.

I’ll pay $103 this year for emergency medical services. I’m hopeful I won’t need an EMT this year (gotta remember to exercise!) but this is cheap insurance at $8.58 per month.

King County will get $619 from me, to support public safety (in the form of prosecutors, courts, and jails), manage elections, provide social and health services, and run the parks system. Again, not too bad. According to the KC website, about 68% of this money goes to criminal justice, so I’m paying approximately $421 this year for safety from crime, in addition to the contributions made by the city and state police.

By far the biggest chunks go for the City of Seattle ($1452) and State of Washington ($1190). In the absence of any income tax in Washington, this money is pretty much my contribution to roads, city and state government, fire district management, the state university and community college systems, and innumerable other public services.

The interesting one is the $1020 I pay this year for local schools. Given that I’m single and have no children, there’s an argument that I should resent paying a thousand bucks a year for services I don’t use. But I think that’s a specious argument because indirectly I do use the schools. I expect to hire educated people for my company. I expect to do business with other companies that have reasonably functional, educated employees. I hope for a strong local economy, which means we’ll need better educated workers so that we can fill knowledge worker jobs instead of fast-food jobs. So whether I have kids or not, $1020 is the investment I make in the future of our region. Again, viewed as an investment, I’m happy to pay it.

I live in a state without a state income tax. Thus, my roughly $4600 goes to cover virtually every local, county, and state service I consume, as well as educating our youth. That’s $12.60 per day for fire, police, the courts, government (including lawmaking and other democratic processes), schools, parks, non-federal contributions to roads and transportation, and local efforts for environmental conservation.

Sound like a lot? Well, clearly this isn’t a “pennies a day” argument. $12.60 is nothing to sneeze at. The proper comparison, however, would be the costs of getting all of those services if privatized. I don’t really know what that would cost, but I’m betting that the sum total of all the bills for roads/transportation/airport, criminal justice, fire and emergency services, social services, education, and governance would vastly exceed the $384/month I currently pay in the form of property taxes.

The net result is that after thinking about how my property taxes are used, I’m pretty happy. Sure, the individual governments could be run more efficiently, and perform better, but that’s a separate issue.

(and yes, if you’re really clever, you can figure out the assessed value of my house from this post. :)