Matter of Laugh or Death
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
SPRING RITES AND TAX BITES
Although Spring is my favorite time of year, I’m depressed. I will spend this entire weekend doing what I always do in mid-April: sitting at a desk struggling to complete my tax returns.
It has become an annual tradition. On the last Friday before April 15th I gather up all the required paperwork, put new batteries in the calculator, and sharpen a few dozen pencils. Then on Saturday morning I solemnly kiss my wife and daughters good-bye and sequester myself in our basement office with a vow not to emerge until the mission is accomplished.
Throughout the tedious weekend my wife is always supportive, offering helpful assistance before I even ask. When I grow thirsty, she quietly places just inside the doorway a tall glass of iced tea. When I become hungry, she quietly places just inside the doorway a plate with a large sandwich. When I get so frustrated I’m about to burst into tears, she quietly places just inside the doorway a box of Kleenex. And when I’m on the verge of completing my grueling mission, pen poised to sign my name to the bottom of the tax return, she quietly places just inside the doorway a pile of additional charitable deduction receipts she discovered in her purse.
There is something new this tax season. My oldest daughter began working part-time last year when she turned 16 and now she has to complete a tax return of her own. Suddenly she views this annual Spring rite much differently. Instead of just being “the weekend where dad sits alone in the basement yelling and crying,” she now has developed a keen interest in the whole concept of taxation.
Which I think is a good thing, because up until now my daughter was under the impression that the government simply waved a magic wand and caused piles of fresh money to materialize and pay for all sorts of feel-good projects—the same impression the Democratic Party has been under for over half a century.
In the past, my daughter was prone to make statements such as: “Teachers should be paid the same as major league baseball players,” “The government should give everyone free health insurance,” “All elderly people should get in-home nursing care whenever they want it,” and (my favorite), “Everyone should get a new car on their 16th birthday.”
When I would reply, “Yes, but who is going to pay for it?” she would groan and roll her eyes, obviously embarrassed to be living in the same house with such a mean-spirited, intolerant, greedy, racist homophobe. (Although race and sexual orientation were never mentioned during our discussions, it seems kids are being taught in school these days that people who do not agree, for example, that teachers should be paid the same as major league baseball players, are immediately branded with the full arsenal of liberal invectives—the John Ashcroft/Clarence Thomas/Robert Bork treatment.)
I explained that the government took a percentage of money out of each of her paychecks to pay for important programs, such as giving foreign aid to countries that hate us, paying farmers not to grow anything, restocking the silverware on Air Force One after Bill and his friends looted the airplane on his final flight, and making sure Ted Kennedy’s senate office never runs out of 12-year-old scotch.
“Did my taxes pay for all that?” she asked.
“Well, you’re working part-time for minimum wage,” I explained, “so your taxes paid for either two spoons on the plane or one round of drinks at a Teddy toga party.”
Then I showed her my tax return from last year. Despite my unimpressive middle-class income, she was nonetheless impressed by how much of it I never touched. “Wow, that’s almost 20-percent of your pay,” she noted.
“Oh, that’s only the federal income tax,” I said. “There’s also Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, state income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, gasoline taxes, and various tolls and fees and licenses. When you add it all up, it’s closer to 50-percent.”
She sat quietly for a few moments. I think she was envisioning what would happen to her own unimpressive middle-class income in a decade or two. Then I added, “And if you want all those health insurance, nursing care, and teacher salary programs, it’ll have to be more like 90-percent.”
I don’t think my daughter is ready just yet to join the Taxpayer Revolt Militia (she doesn’t look good in green camouflage), but this whole episode did open her eyes a little. Even though I’m delighted she finally sees something from my point of view for a change, I’m sure I’ll still need a box of Kleenex by Sunday afternoon.
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