Toussaint column: Practicing a taxing form of gratitude
In 2018, a fellow worker opined to me that all taxes — and all government — should be abolished. I found his remark a bit paradoxical since, at the time, we were both serving as election workers paid by Garfield County.
Continuing to ruminate on that comment, I’ve become convinced that three life experiences have proved to me the folly of such an extreme libertarian view: living in big cities, traveling in third-world countries, and struggling through a major natural disaster.
Because I traveled to Ghana in 1972, I have an inkling of what un-governed life might be like. Several machine-gun-toting, khaki-clad, Akan-speaking thugs pulled my tourist group over at a roadblock. They never identified themselves. Perhaps they were connected with the coup that overthrew Kofi Busia a month earlier? I never found out why they grilled our driver and tore apart our luggage. Squatting in broiling sun beside a rutted roadside for hours, I had ample time to think about the impossibility of contacting our own government. The coup had cut off all phone service, radio and TV broadcasts. We whiteys could have just disappeared. …
My experience following San Francisco’s 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was similarly eye opening. When phone service, gas and electric, traffic lights and airports all shut down, the economic engines of any megalopolis quickly stall out. When roads and bridges are disabled, when food and medicine can’t be delivered, crisis looms just days away.
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While I don’t like paying sales, property or income taxes, I do appreciate civilized infrastructure.
Like several friends, I have experienced health crises that prompted trips to CU’s Anschutz Medical Campus near Denver. That requires either an I-70 trip or a medivac helicopter. Since Uncle Sam picked up 90 percent of the tab for our interstate highways and since he also pays the air traffic controllers, it’s our tax dollars at work either way.
While I’m thinking about Anschutz — which got $553.5 million in federal grants last year — I’d also like to thank Colorado for its public schools. I got a fine education, from kindergarten through two BAs from CU Boulder. I do wish Colorado would do a better job now in investing in our shared future. Despite one of the nation’s best economies, we rank a sorry 42nd in student funding and a shameful 46th in teacher pay.
I’m really fond of our national parks and the U.S. Forest Service; I wish we hired enough rangers to truly care for our public lands. I was appalled to learn how much damage was done when they were off the payroll during government shutdowns.
I’m also happy to pay for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. If you use broadcast or Internet weather forecasts, you get that information courtesy of NOAA’s National Weather Service. If you eat fish, go boating or venture into hurricane country, you’re benefiting from NOAA’s work in fisheries and oceanic conditions. In 1900, when a hurricane killed nearly 12,000 people in Galveston, they had no warning. Today, thanks to NOAA’s satellite systems and dual-polarization radar, we get three to five days warning of major storms.
While thinking about weather, I’d like to tip my hat to Colorado’s highway department. You can’t spend much time in the mountains without experiencing the rush of gratitude that comes from seeing the blue and yellow lights of a CDOT snowplow flashing through a whiteout.
I’m also happy to support the federal Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration and the EPA. I’d guess that conservatives who want to abolish these public health agencies never spent much time in West Africa. There, taking a drink of water, purchasing food or eating dinner out can prove to be a death-defying act.
What’s more, due to international air travel, diseases like SARS, Ebola and West Nile virus can arrive from such under-governed places in mere hours. When they arrive, who you gonna call?
And what if you’ve gotta flee?
Few in this valley will soon forget the Lake Christine Fire. Ultimately, our safety arrived in the form of public servants from more than 38 tax-supported agencies: local towns, counties, police, firefighters from 28 states, EMTs, the Forest Service, the BLM — even the Roaring Fork School District, which sheltered evacuees.
Come April, I might upload my taxes on the internet, a convenience invented by the Defense Department and supported by federal grants until it became commercially viable.
More likely, I’ll choose to hand my 1040 over to Marty at the Carbondale post office. Much as I appreciate FedEx and UPS, I wouldn’t care to entrust my private financial data to an anonymous, profit-driven concern. I trust Marty far more. He’s no faceless bureaucrat employed by the US Postal Service. I know him. What’s more, I know where he lives!
Nicolette Toussaint lives in Carbondale. Her column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com.
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