As published in the April 16, 2011, Iowa City Press-Citizen
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Taxes represent our shared commitment to Iowa’s present and future prosperity.
Anyone who eats food, drinks water, counts on more than a locked door to protect them at night, wants good teachers in our schools and qualified doctors in town must realize how essential services are funded.
Through taxes, we invest in roads that allow our businesses to move goods to customers and all of us to get to work and every place else. Taxes and service fees pay for potable drinking water, police and fire protection in our neighborhoods, the education of our children and health care for our neediest neighbors.
This Tax Day, we cannot allow our discussion of taxes to be divorced from what our tax dollars actually do for us.
In Iowa, nearly all individual and corporate income tax and sales tax revenues go to the state’s General Fund. This fund is the primary source of finance for government activity in the state. The General Fund funds everything from our court system and prisons to monitoring and inspecting care facilities for the elderly and persons with disabilities.
As taxpayers, our largest investment is in education. Between our regents institutions, community colleges, tuition aid to all of Iowa’s college students, and state aid to local school districts, almost 63 cents of every state tax dollar goes to education.
The civic value of an educated electorate has been recognized since the founding of our country; recent research demonstrates that education has tremendous economic value, too, and not just for the student.
Over the long term, educated students are not only likely to have higher earnings, but they are less likely to be caught up in the criminal justice system or to need public income support. Other research shows that investing in public education also has a more immediate positive effect on the local economy, swaying location decisions by families and firms.
In other words, those children with backpacks walking past your door on their way to school carry not only their own dreams, but our future as Iowans and Americans. They can do so because we all pay taxes.
Medicaid is another good example of services funded by taxes, Medicaid is often perceived as a public health insurance program for the poor, but this is not the full picture. In state Fiscal Year 2007, almost three-quarters of Medicaid spending went to help seniors and persons with disabilities. Children’s health care accounted for another 15 percent of Medicaid spending.
So much of the rhetoric that surrounds tax day and taxes in general is inflamed by emotion, devoid of fact and not driven by a public spirit. We should recognize that taxes represent our commitment to making Iowa a great place to live, today and in the future.
Andrew Cannon of Iowa City is a research associate for the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project, www.iowapolicyproject.org.