Some years ago, the late Senator Russell Long of Louisiana, poking fun at tax reform policy, said that the underlying philosophy was, "Don't tax me. Don't tax thee. Tax that man behind the tree!"
For far too long, many in the Steamboat area have foisted the myth on Routt County voters that the cost of tax increases will actually be borne by others - vacationers, second home owners, businesses, landlords or "some other man behind a tree." This is not merely a myth - it is fraud! It appears from Tuesday's election results that this time the wool did not quite cover the eyes. Only small and targeted taxes were approved while large and ill-conceived tax plans lost badly.
Hopefully we have learned two things. First, we, each of us, are that man behind the tree. Consequently, if we allow the philosophy described by Senator Long to prevail, each of us will be directly and adversely hit by the cost of increased taxation.
The second point, while more subtle, is in reality far more important. The actual cost of taxation does not just fall on the person remitting the tax. When taxes on the local grocery are increased, the grocer passes this cost on in the form of increased food prices, lower wages, reduced employee benefits, and/or fewer employees or hours worked. All of this reduces the local standard of living for everyone, rich and poor alike, but lands particularly hard on the poorer members of the community.
Had the City been allowed to enact the proposed property tax, the cost of home ownership would have increased. More significantly, due to the Gallagher Amendment (which generally requires the bulk of property taxes to come from commercial property), businesses and commercial property owners would have incurred a substantial new cost. This cost would be passed on in the form of higher rents and increased prices, thus driving up the local cost of living and driving down the standard of living. These effects are directly at odds with the City's purported concern for the plight of locally owned small businesses and affordable housing.
"Robin Hood" programs, whereby money is taken from some in the form of taxation for the benefit of others deemed more deserving, really do not work well. Increased taxation limits the opportunities of society as a whole and reduces the prosperity and options of every individual. A flourishing economy, by contrast, increases opportunity for all.
Here is the message to take home: Lower tax rates stimulate the creation of real wealth and generate more dollars for the treasury. History has shown this to be true every time it is tried. As Nobel Laureate, Milton Friedman (who won a real Nobel Prize - in Economics - not a "Peace Prize"), observed, "Most economic fallacies derive from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie, that one party can gain only at the expense of another." Increased taxation makes for a smaller economic pie, while limited government and taxation makes for a larger pie.
I hope that we have learned our lesson well, and that we will continue to look at new proposals to increase levels of taxation and the size of government with significant skepticism.
Voters, I congratulate you, but conclude this piece with this admonition. You can bet that you will be presented with a new bevy of tax proposals in the next election. Stand strong. Remember what Will Rogers said, "The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets."
Rick Akin is an Attorney practicing in Steamboat Springs and Austin, Texas, a former member of the Pilot and Today Editorial Board, and a Director of the Conservative Leadership Council of Northwest Colorado. His great-grandparents moved to Steamboat in 1926. He holds a BA from Oklahoma and a doctorate from the Univ. of Texas. He will never win a Nobel Peace Prize.