David Rodeback's Blog

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Life Among the Mormons, and Other Stuff

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Friday, August 4, 2006
Is It Fair that All Taxpayers Pay for Everything?

Sometimes a good test of a principle is to attempt to follow it where it leads.

Here's a frequent occurrence chez Rodeback, involving a parent (it doesn't matter which parent) and a child (it doesn't matter which child, either).

Child clears his place at the dinner table and leaves the room. Parents, engaged in conversation, don't notice until child is gone from the room.

Parent: Oh, Child! Please return to the kitchen and help us clean up.

Child [appears, stomps a little]: Dang! I cleared my own place. Why do I have to help with the rest?

P: You just do. We've had this conversation before.

C: But it's not fair! I cleared my own place!

P [lapsing into that nearly insufferable teacher mode that offspring so love to hate]: Is it fair that one of us had to cook everyone's dinner, or that one of us works all the time to pay the mortgage for the house we all live in?

C: But --

P: When you're ready to pay your one-sixth of the mortgage every month, we can talk about how it's unfair for you to help clean up after dinner.

C huffs inarticulately.

P: Now please sweep the floor.

C huffs inarticulately and moves slowly toward the broom.

P: Oh, and, Napoleon Dynamite? When you're done with that, please feed the leftover casserole to the llama.

Okay, I made up that last line. And I might be the first to mock any soft-headed soul who expressed the saccharine sentiment that we American Forkers are or should be one big, happy family. No metaphor is perfect. But this domestic exchange is what comes to mind when I hear grown men and women whining about part of their taxes going to legitimate government services they themselves do not actually use.

It's not a new argument at the local or national level, but it seems to be happening a lot lately in American Fork. Maybe that means folks are more engaged in public discussion of the City budget, which would be a good thing. In any case, it will probably be heard even more as the pressurized irrigation bond election looms.

So, dear neighbor, you don't think you should help pay for a skate park you'll never use or a broadband system that gives people access to that Internet thing you don't care about -- or maybe even think is evil? (In truth, the Internet is not inherently evil; nor is the knife you can use to prepare your family's dinner or kill your brother.) So, Mr. Developer, you think you should be exempt from the parks impact fee because your senior citizen residents won't be getting out to the parks much, and all the residents' family members that might visit promise (cross their hearts!) never to stop at any park in the city for a picnic on their way? (A true story except for the part about the family members and the picnic.)

It's possible, in theory, that we'd still have roads and traffic signals if the world of government worked on that principle. But the accounting would make the IRS Code look like a flat tax, and every street and other public facility would have a toll booth (or some less intrusive, high-tech equivalent, with a nasty bill at the end of the month) -- because, you see, if it works for you, it would have to work for me. I could go completely nuts and look at this on a national scale, but for the sake of sanity, here's a partial list of the things I might prefer not to pay for in the city, because I don't use them:

  • quite a few streets in various parts of the city
  • most of the parks
  • the boat harbor
  • the Recreation Center (which I probably should use)
  • the Senior Center and related services
  • most Steel Days events
  • the fire department and EMT services (so far)
  • the skate park
  • most of the city's arts programs
  • the golf course
  • recreation programs
  • the Literacy Center
  • most of the books in the library
  • anything equestrian (I rode a horse twice, and it was fun, but that was in Idaho)

On second thought, let's not bring reason, local government, and the local economy to a screeching halt, and let's not divide the populace into factions any more than we have to. I'll keep paying for my share of stuff you use but I don't, and you keep paying for your share of stuff you don't use but I do. We can both keep trying to sway the public mind our way in the meantime.

I'm not saying that government should require everyone to pay for everything anyone wants. (That's how the national Democratic Party and the federal budget became what they are today -- ick! -- and maybe it's time to add the Republican Party to the list.) I'm also not saying that public funding should go to things like abortion, if the local majority finds them immoral -- or even to broadband, if the public does not value long-term economic growth. Reasonable restraint and a sense of the collective will are important factors in such decisions. It is inevitable that I will not value some things in the city as much as others do, and that I won't get some of what I want, because others don't value it as I do. But I can live with that. It's the price of trying to have a community.

If living in a city doesn't work for you, that's okay. You're allowed your personal tastes. And you're in luck. There's a lot of desolate, unincorporated land in the West. Some folks actually prefer to live there. You can fill your water bottle and canteens from my hose before you go, and I'll let you use some of my sunscreen (while supplies last). Just be sure you come to the door before you root around in my glove compartment for the sunscreen, or there's a good chance I'll call AFPD -- which you'll note is not on the silly list I offered above.

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