by Bill Jordan
February 1, 2012

Taxes matter. Despite the beating they get in public discourse, taxes are not bad. They are not to ‘blame’ for any number of evils. They are simply a tool. Taxes are the pooling of our resources in order to accomplish things collectively that few of us could accomplish on our own. Taxes are how we build roads, educate kids, maintain law and order, and provide a whole host of other services and infrastructure few of us would be willing to live without. Taxes are our investment in our quality of life. But the way they are talked about, you would think taxes are a proxy for something sinister.

Taxes are a proxy—for something necessary, not something bad.

Imagine how we would sound if we used words like ‘roads,’ ‘education,’ ‘public safety,’ and ‘heath care’ instead of ‘taxes.’

Would you want to be heard saying, “I can’t believe I pay for roads when I fill my gas tank”? Or, “first responders really hike up the cost of my mortgage.” Or, “my water bill wouldn’t be so bad if I could get out of paying for public safety.” It might make us sound stupid or shallow but we would, at least, be speaking more honestly about taxes than we do now.

Taxes are a big topic of discussion at the Roundhouse these days, thanks to a couple of recent studies that rank the states on their various tax rates. New Mexico’s taxes are either too high or too low, depending on which study you favor. But imagine how the conversations might sound if legislators used the same technique cited above when talking about taxes.

You might hear, “our network of roads and traffic signals is a burden to new businesses.” Or, “companies don’t relocate here because we educate our populace.” Or, “we’re never going to recruit new business until we cut back on our court system.”

The point of this exercise is that when we talk about taxes we’re generally taking about the wrong issue. What we should really be talking about is what we want to accomplish as a community. What kind of state we want to live in. Do we want to live in a state where 25 percent of children lived in poverty before the recession? Are we OK with only providing pre-kindergarten to 15 percent of our 4-year-olds? Can we ignore the fact that tens of thousands of our children can’t see a doctor for routine health care?

You’d be hard pressed to find a legislator on either side of the aisle who would answer yes to these questions. But you would find some that want to cut our tax rates even though such a move would only sap our ability to solve these problems.

Taxes matter. It matters how much money the state collects and from whom it is collected. But what matters most is why we collect them in the first place. Roads. Education. Public safety. Health care. These are not partisan issues. Most of us agree that we want these things—not just for ourselves but for our families, our neighbors, and the generations that will follow us. Maybe if we spent more time talking about why we collect taxes, we would agree more on how much we should collect and from whom.

Bill Jordan in NM Voices’ Policy Director.

If you’d like to comment on this blog post, please do so on our FaceBook page.