Sunday, July 08, 2007

Death and Taxes are Certain, Especially Taxes

It’s a trite old expression: Nothing is certain in life except for death and taxes. But that expression has stood the test of time because it rings so true.

But one day, maybe sooner than most people think, the first certainty in that pair may not be inevitable. Researchers are starting to find the reasons why people age and die and they have discovered that there is no death gene. We are not, as it turns out, genetically programmed to die after a certain length of time as it was once thought.

That means, if we can eliminate the things in our environment that damage our tissue, and mitigate those damages, the only thing that would kill us would be a fatal accident. People could live hundreds of years without having such an accident.

If it ever came to pass that scientists could invent a method of cheating death, then the second part of the axiom, taxes, would be the only sure thing in life. And, in fact, there doesn’t seem to be any hope of ever eliminating those. It seems we may have better luck at eliminating death than taxes.

In Indianapolis last week, protests were held by homeowners who are understandably upset about the drastic increase in their property taxes this year. Some homeowners are facing a 100-percent increase. Most increases are on the order of 30 percent, but it still marks the second time in two years that property taxes have gone up substantially.

Income taxes already take a hefty bite out of everyone’s paycheck. The federal government gets the biggest share, but the state and even most counties have their hands in our cookie jars too.

Then there are gasoline taxes. Everyone who drives has to pay that at the pump on top of the price of fuel. And we pay sales tax on gasoline, too, as well as federal tax. We’re paying triple tax on gasoline, and since sales tax is charged as a percent of the total price, and not per gallon, it results in a windfall profit for the state.

Our system of taxes in Indiana is in desperate need of an overhaul. One of the most inequitable tax arrangements is that local property taxes are used to fund school districts. That means districts in towns or neighborhoods where there are lots of older homes or manufactured housing are not funded as well as schools in areas with large, newer homes or where there is a lot of industry.

It means students in some schools have old, deteriorating classrooms without air conditioning or decent lab facilities while students in other schools have all the educational amenities, such as computers for each student and modern science labs.

Many years ago, Indiana also had a personal property tax. Not only did you pay taxes on your home, but on everything in it. Until a year ago, businesses still had to pay taxes on unsold merchandise, warehoused items, and equipment.

A better solution, and a much more equitable one, would be to eliminate all property taxes for everyone and eliminate the income tax. Instead, the state should fill its coffers with taxes on purchases. Charging sales taxes and excise taxes is a more reasonable method of taxation than the current system.

Keep the taxes on gasoline, tobacco, and alcohol. Charge a fair sales tax. Charge a flat-rate tax on license plates. That’s’ it. No income taxes or property taxes are needed.

The people who buy more will pay more in taxes. If you want to avoid paying taxes, don’t buy expensive items.

We’ll still have to pay taxes, of course, but we’ll have more control over the amount we pay.

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