Property Rights

You Get What You (Don’t) Pay For

“Taxation is theft!”

While true, shifting the debate over taxation to its logical conclusion at the outset causes many people to simply ask: “Then how should government services be funded?”

Much of the debate over this question can only be resolved by determining which services the government should actually be providing. What, in other words, is the proper role of government?

Let’s address Utah specifically, where (for example) the state is constitutionally obligated to provide educational services to the children of its citizens—a requirement that deviates from government’s proper role. How should these schools be funded?

Currently, they are funded by a mixture of taxes—52% from state revenue (100% of state income taxes goes to education), 38% from local revenue (a substantial portion of your property taxes), and 10% from the federal government.

Under this system, a family with 10 kids is able to receive the same services as a family with only one child. Both families are compelled to pay the same taxes, though their differing family makeup produces an additional inequity—heads of large households pay little to no income tax because of the exemptions they’re able to receive for each dependent. $2,850 in personal tax exemptions are added up for every individual in the family.

Attempts have been made over the years to address this inequity, most recently by Senator Jones last month. Jones’ proposal would eliminate this tax exemption, thereby generating roughly $400 million in new taxation.

The Utah Taxpayers Association strongly opposes this proposal, saying that “the largest [tax] increase the state has ever seen” would be a “good way to convince businesses to invest in Idaho, Colorado or Wyoming.” While we strongly oppose the income tax itself, its burden should not be inequitably applied; the state should not pick and choose who will feel its adverse effects.

Those who utilize government services should pay for them. It is not unreasonable to suggest that parents who chose to have many children should bear the burden of their upbringing. The decision to procreate has a cost associated with it—food, clothing, shelter, and yes, education, are some of the necessary expenses that come with raising children. While those in dire need should be given assistance, the general population should not socialize the cost of their own family decisions through coercive means upon their neighbors.

It is therefore not unreasonable to suggest that large families should pay larger amounts into the education system. In this, Jones’ proposal is praiseworthy and worth exploring. However, it is only worth supporting to the extent that it minimizes the burden of education funding on those who do not have children receiving educational services from the state. Newlyweds, senior citizens, and others without children should not be compelled to subsidize the family decisions of their neighbors.

Senator Jones agreed with this, at least in part, during last week’s meeting. Representative Eliason had asked about why the tax burden should be increased on large families—those who “are bearing the greatest expenses of raising children,” he said. Jones replied: “What you’re saying is that families that have six children… should be subsidized by those who do not get the exemption.”

Taxation is theft, and the costs that should be borne by those who receive certain services are all too easily spread out amongst the general population. Arguing that “we all benefit from an educated population” to justify forcing other families to foot the bill is a mistake, just like arguing that churches should be similarly financed because, as John Adams said, “it is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand.” The ends do not justify the means. Important causes do not necessitate forcing people to pay for them under threat of fines and jail time.

You and I should get what we pay for. Instead, under the current system, people quite often get what they don’t pay for—so-called “entitlements,” constitutionally required or otherwise, that allow them to benefit from the financial enslavement of their peers.

Taxation, while it exists, should be borne equitably and reasonably, which means requiring that those who benefit from government services should be paying for them more than those who do not.