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Lessons From a Tax Bill

Friday October 18th, 2013   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 10:45am PDT   •  

CoupleBills_200Federal and state governments always deserve attention but county governments send out the property tax bills. The envelope of mine read:


No exclamation point necessary. The tone is, “let’s have the wallet, Jack. And let’s have it right now.” Government likes the imperative mood.

Inside the taxpayer learns that what he must pay, and – surprise – it’s more than it was last year. So they reassessed the property, all without participation of the owners. The larger amount is not negotiable. This confirms that governments may talk about improving “customer service” but taxpayers are not customers in any meaningful sense. They cannot shift their business to Betty and Don’s Government down the street.

The higher rate comes without regard to the taxpayer’s ability to pay, and it matters not if he or she lost a job, became disabled or perhaps was a crime victim. And the bill outlines no improved or additional services taxpayers are getting for the additional money. There are no improved or additional services, and it’s more likely that existing services have deteriorated.

The bill does offer an installment plan. The first payment is due December 10, just in time for the holidays, when most people need extra money. The second is due April 10, right when taxpayers are filing returns and paying all the other taxes they owe. If you fail to pay property tax on time, they tack on a 10 percent penalty. That’s because government is “compassionate.”

There’s a back story here. During the mid-1970s in California, high property taxes were driving people from their homes. In 1978 the people responded with Proposition 13 a ballot initiative that limited the state’s power to raise property taxes, mandated no new spending, and created no new state agencies. So naturally politicians attack Proposition 13 and still blame it for all state woes. On the other hand, they favor measures such as Propositions 63 and 71, which raised taxes, created new bureaucracies, enabled wasteful spending, and did little but enrich a well-connected few.

The lessons should be clear. Governments are inefficient, impatient and greedy. They always want more money, without offering taxpayers any increase in services. Local governments, just like those people in Washington, are looking out for number one. Taxpayers aren’t even number two. So OPEN IMMEDIATELY that tax bill, and mark that calendar for December 10.

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October 2013