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From the Left Hand Corner: It is a taxing week

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We are told that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. It may be further stated that taxes are the most certain of the two, as we have been convinced by repeated personal experience.

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Taxes, a rather boring subject at best, a costly one to all, will likely come to the public forefront this week as the hoopla over last week’s issue subsides. It does make some sense to be talking about taxes since the issue has the most to say about how our government functions, and has the most overall direct effect on most all of us.

It is almost inevitable that taxes take over center stage this week as it is crunch time at the Legislature. This is the final scheduled week of the 2013 session, and a lot remains to be resolved.

We have had several months of input and exchange on tax issues, particularly since the governor came out with his first comprehensive budget proposal. There was immediate wailing and gnashing of teeth. Too much of the reaction has been fluff, and too little has been substance. There hasn’t been much in the way of counter proposal, only criticism of what has been proposed.

Too much of our last five months have been illusion theater. There has been continuing resort to platitudes — ”no new taxes,” “tax and spend liberals,” “overreaching,” “spending problem,” “cut out the fat” and “not sustainable” ad nauseum.

It is time to end the hypocrisy and showboating. You cannot keep every commitment and fund every campaign promise and do it all for less tax money. It just does not work that way, not any more for government than it does in our personal lives. It only works well to take in the money first and then spend only what you have.

The needs will not go away, and it’s time to determine the amounts to be assessed to meet them, and provide the level of government that the majority of our society believes appropriate.

Our state income tax should most certainly be increased (some of us say restored) to pre-2000 levels, or perhaps a little more, to make up for the last decade of artificial cuts to education.

The governor says “2 percent on 2 percent,” which is defensible, but we needn’t single out just those select and fortunate few. An adjustment in income tax is appropriate for all who are fortunate enough to make more than they need for their own use. It is the fairest tax and the easiest to administer and collect, and to adjust up or down as changes in need occur.

Sin taxes are an attractive tax target and certainly defensible, but changes should not be extreme. Another nickel on gas tax is also defensible, since we went 20-plus years with no change. Then, after the hue and cry about how a nickel or dime would virtually stop all driving in Minnesota, it was adjusted a few cents and nobody noticed.

As an aside, compare it to the 40 or 50 cents Big Oil has kicked the price in the last few weeks before Memorial Day travel.

The proposed broadening of sales tax is more problematic. There, good argument is available to both pro and con. Tax on so-called business to business sounds good to everyone except those who will have to pay it or collect it. The same is true for proposals like $5 on each insurance policy for some specific funding.

I have no love for insurance companies and no objection to the expenditure, but requiring a private entity to collect tax $5 at a time doesn’t sound entirely fair, and not very efficient even in our increasingly tech world.

Overall, I’m most certainly not advocating all of the above, but only observing that a lot is left under consideration for the very few days left. I hope the debate can be brief and reasoned, as various proposals are adopted, amended or discarded. I hope that enough total is assessed to provide some stability for the future, and some immediate reduction in the heretofore not mentioned property tax for overburdened local government units reliant upon it.

Let’s be optimistic. Hopefully, Minnesotans will see the situation we are in for what it is, and, at least grudgingly, accept that substantial increase is the price we need to pay to get our beloved state back on a better track.

It is time to bring a halt to the shortchanging of vulnerable government functions just to look good politically, and to pretend that we were balancing budgets that weren’t.

As it is time to provide some additional income to state coffers, it is also overdue time for accountability. It is time to end the sleight of hand, and to make all payment from tax dollars (and any accruals) in open, reportable and understandable fashion.

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