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August 27, 2010

Taxes and Sin Taxes

Joe Charlebois

In December of 2008 I wrote a column entitled “Time Is Money.” I thought it may be time for a little redux.


The purpose of that column, simply put, was to put into context what the value of someone’s time is in relation to taxes.


“Wages are the equivalent of pieces of our lives. When we are industrious we are rewarded with wages, a salary or payment for services. When we have received these wages we then have the choice on how to spend our money or time.”


I used the example of how – based on making minimum wage – I made the free choice to exchange 32 days of my life for a used Volkswagen Beetle. We need to understand, and our government officials need to understand, that we alone can best decide how our money (time) is spent.


As we head into the thick of the election season we need to be aware that an effective government does not need an ever increasing percentage of our income to succeed; it just needs to be efficient. It is unfair to ask for more than is needed to satisfy the bevy of interest groups that clamor for our tax dollars. This fall we must ask the candidates how they will use – and hold them accountable for – the taxes collected from the citizenry.


As I was aware that I was trading 32 days of my life for that first car, I need to know how the candidates view the taxes that have been collected from the taxpaying citizens. Is it “theirs” to spend as they see fit? Do they see it as our money that should be treated with care and returned if unused? How they answer these questions is the key to the future solvency of the different levels of government that we support through our tax dollars.


One of the best examples of government abuses is the fact that the current Congress looks at a tax cut as an expense. Current observation shows that the local governments – working on a balanced budget requirement – for the most part are very aware of their tax base and individual constituencies. The larger the government the less likely they are to care about the individual and their “contributions” to their government.


The other thing to look for this fall when sizing up the candidates is how they view taxes for social engineering. I don’t mean creating social programs, I’m referring to so called “sin taxes.”


Recently Frederick County Commissioner John L. “Lennie” Thompson signed on to increase alcohol taxes. He stated that he wanted to save the taxpayers’ money. Since the county does support alcohol and drug programs, Mr. Thompson believes it is unfair that the taxpayer should foot the bill for people who abuse either or both alcohol and drugs.


I don’t disagree that we shouldn’t be responsible for others’ misdeeds, but Mr. Thompson is in essence punishing the restaurants, bars and liquor stores that sell legal products. His intent is not merely to raise revenues but institute a new “Prohibition.”


This tax will do little to curb the number of alcoholics and drug addicts in the county. It will, however, put a crimp on the businesses that sell legal products such as beer, wine and liquor.


Frederick County is rich in wineries and breweries. With a sitting commissioner taking a stance like this against his own county businesses – or those looking to relocate to Maryland or Frederick County – can only wonder what the business climate will be in the future. The current make up of the Board of County Commissioners that was elected on the fears of Frederick County becoming overpopulated – like Montgomery County – turned into no growth advocates instead of smart and measured growth.


Our county and our state can’t afford to scare away any more business in this depressed economy. It is time for officials who are smart with “our” money.


Whether it is “sin taxes,” or misuse of our tax dollars, “we need to remember that we are finite beings. We trade our time for money. We should reserve the right to determine how that money is spent.”


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