The country’s anti-tax proponents argue government always wastes our hard-earned tax dollars and there are no money bargains or savings for citizens when taxes are used collectively to improve our quality of life or our education systems or our health care programs.
This deceptive and immoral propaganda campaign, aimed directly and relentlessly at the middle class, has been waged by modern-day conservatives since the Reagan era, and it continues today. Nationally, it is known as the Republican “starve the beast” strategy developed by right-winger Grover Norquist.
The success of the TABOR initiative petition drive in Oklahoma will rest entirely on creating this false mistrust in government spending. Its underlying ideology argues that paying taxes is always—not sometimes, not most of the time, but always—a losing proposition for taxpayers.
TABOR, which stands for the Taxpayer Bill of Rights movement, would limit state government spending to a formula tied to the inflation rate and population growth. Any leftover money would be refunded to taxpayers. Oklahoma Tabor supporters, mostly funded by outside political interests, are hoping to gather enough signatures to place the issue on the ballot next year even though Colorado voters recently rescinded TABOR there because it decimated the state’s educational systems.
But you need to look no further than Oklahoma City’s recent success with MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects) to see the obvious deception in basic TABOR ideology.
In 1993, Oklahoma City voters approved a sales tax increase in order to give the city a much needed facelift. More than $309 was collected from 1993 to 1999, and the proceeds went to such items as construction of the Ford Center and the Bricktown Canal.
By virtually all measurements, MAPS is a great success. Bricktown is flourishing, we have a fantastic new downtown library, and the city recently become the home of the New Orleans Hornets basketball team after Hurricane Katrina forced the team to find a temporary home.
City officials are hoping the city can show the NBA that Oklahoma City is now a big league city ready for a permanent team here once the Hornets return to New Orleans. That would have never have happened except for increasing, not cutting, taxes.
The funded projects have obviously helped to increase business recruitment here. Beyond that, Bricktown—for all its faults—is truly a vital and thriving entertainment district that is an Oklahoma City jewel. It improves the quality of life for us all. It also deepens the city’s overall tax base, which helps us all financially.
But I bet you will not hear TABOR supporters talk about how tax dollars were spent to improve the city.
I am sure TABOR supporters would argue that nothing in their proposed constitutional amendment would prevent taxpayers from passing a new MAPS-like initiative here or elsewhere in the state.
But that is not the point. If government always wastes money and we always need to reduce taxes and government spending, then why should we ever increase taxes? There was as much as a potential for waste and corruption with MAPS and city government as there is in state government.
Under TABOR ideology, in fact, Oklahoma City should have cut taxes, not raised them. That would have made Oklahoma City a better place, according to TABOR ideology. That would have created jobs here and improved the city’s basic infrastructure, they would argue.
Relentless oversight of taxpayer’s money is always crucial, but it is disingenuous to argue the members of the MAPS oversight board were somehow more moral and scrupulous than those people who oversee state spending, such as the state auditor or the attorney general.
Ultimately, the state TABOR supporters want to starve state government of revenue, which will lead to much higher college tuition costs, higher fees, under funded educational programs, and reduced programs for the state’s vulnerable. Right now, Oklahoma leads the nation in the number of hungry people on a percentage basis, according to a recent study.
Set aside, for a moment, the intrinsic moral issue of cutting taxes that would mostly benefit the ultra-rich as the state cuts social programs, which is sure to happened if TABOR is enacted. Look at it pragmatically. Reducing funding for social programs costs us all in the long run through, among a variety of things, rising health care costs. When someone without health insurance—the country now has approximately 45 million uninsured people—shows up at a local hospital emergency room, we all pay more money for health care. Our co-pays go up and other medical costs for extensive cancer tests like mammograms skyrocket. It costs us directly and immediately.
The hidden and real reason for TABOR and all these current anti-tax movements, of course, is to decrease taxes for the country’s ultra-rich. The ultra-rich have the money to buy the publicity and the power to shape the news in ways that make many people wrongly believe government always wastes our money. Meanwhile, the rich play us against each other.
But MAPS proves them wrong as do such important federal insurance programs as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. When we pool our tax money with diligent oversight of government, we end up saving ourselves much-needed cash along with improving our quality of life. We are all in this together whether the rich elite like it or not.