Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Taxation for entertainment and recreation?

It seems to me that the proper way to fund anything is to:
1 - identify a need,
2 - justify that need to those who will pay for and use it,
3 - establish a way to pay for it, and finally,
4 - get it.

Cedar City has a so-called RAP (Recreation, Arts, and Parks) tax. I begin by affirming that I am not opposed to recreation, arts, and parks. I just don't think that they are a proper role of government and therefore must not be funded by taxation. Worse, the way in which Cedar City pays for recreation, arts, and parks defies sound government.

The local sales tax is increased a tiny amount -- one penny of each $10 sale -- to fund RAP. So, our tourists and other visitors are forced to help our local economy and to help pay for the recreation, arts, and parks projects and events funded by RAP.

Contrary to the prudent justification and funding of government activities outlined above, what the RAP tax does is
1 - raise funds with no specific purpose -- only a vague "recreation, arts, and parks" purpose
2 - then, several special-interest groups bid for, and receive, all that "free" money.

That taxing process is backwards!

All candidates in this year's municipal election support the RAP tax. Clearly, those of us who are concerned about unrestrained government are in the minority. Everyone else needs to take a close look at the writings of Karl Marx and Frederic Engels to see from whence comes the idea that government should provide all the amenities the people want.

The RAP tax provides a pot of money that often goes begging for a project to be spent on. Instead, what citizens and their representatives should be doing is objectively evaluating what the community needs that cannot be satisfied by private enterprise. Then, citizens and their representatives must ask whether satisfying that need really should be a government function. (Is it really the government's job to provide recreation opportunities for people and their dogs?) Then, citizens and their representatives must justify that need. Then, citizens and their representatives must identify the cost. Then, citizens and their representatives must honestly measure the benefit of that cost. Only then should anyone start considering how much taxation is needed. The RAP tax goes through that process backwards and it costs us dearly every day.

Cedar City's RAP tax extracts hundreds of thousands of dollars from us and our visitors each year. Most of the projects the money funds benefit relatively small segments of the people who happen to be represented by, or participate in, relatively small but vocal special-interest groups. Those special-interest projects and events generally impose long-term maintenance and operation costs on local taxpayers which are not paid by the RAP tax but by ever-higher property taxes.

There are advocates of all sorts of recreation, arts, and parks projects in addition to the 14 parks and recreation properties the city already runs. They allege that such additional facilities can be established at no expense to the taxpayer. Yet, they expect to get "free" land from the city and "free" RAP money. Those clearly are at the expense of the taxpayer. Even if advocates of, for example, a dog park use donated money and labor to buy and develop land into a park, when they donate that park to the city, the taxpayer then must pick up the cost of maintaining operating, and policing it; any liability for injury; plus the loss of tax revenue on that property. No cost to the taxpayer? Get real!

The arts reportedly contribute $42 million a year to our economy. (Gambling generates a lot more than $42 million in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. That doesn't make the taxes it generates any more wholesome.) If the arts generate that much money, why do the arts need RAP money?

Assuming the $42 million number is accurate and valid, it strengthens my argument against the RAP tax. Anything that can generate that kind of money should be able to pay for itself and if the community as a whole (not a minority special-interest group) truly wants it, it does not need tax money.

One local example that should pay for itself is the Shakespeare Festival. They put on some excellent productions. They attract audiences from all over. As good as they are, they ought to be able to pay their own way. Yet, they are always coming to the taxpayer for money -- including a ton of money for a new theater! They are like a welfare queen -- always expecting perpetual subsidies. That dependent attitude degrades an otherwise fine contribution to the community.

RAP tax advocates say that the money that goes to these arts, recreation, and heritage organizations goes right back into the community, which means jobs and revenue for local businesses. They somehow think that without the wise intervention of government overlords and central-planners (RAP Tax Arts Advisory Board), that cycling of money would never happen. Just because beneficiaries of the RAP tax can't generate enough money to pay for themselves in a free market doesn't make it a good or necessary tax.

RAP tax advocates note that the tax burden is shared by visitors through hotel and restaurant taxes. They think that this therefore is "free" money to the community. However, just because RAP advocates can force our visitors to join us in paying a tax doesn't make it a good or necessary tax. Just because some of those visitors come from communities that also tax their guests doesn't make it a good or necessary tax. Consider that some of those visitors impose similar taxes to build stadiums, golf courses, and theaters so that millionaires play games, sing, and act.

RAP tax advocates argue that we have a lighter tax burden than other communities such as New York City and Los Angeles. (That's a bad thing?) Just because we aren't taxed as heavily as those in some other community doesn't make any tax a good or necessary tax.

I doubt there really is such a thing as a good tax. But, there are proper and necessary taxes for proper and necessary government purposes. The nation's founders, among others, explained that the proper and necessary role of government is to protect life, liberty, and property. In free societies, funding for those purposes are justified to the public before the tax is levied.

Contrary to paying for a need, the RAP tax is imposed without any expectation of a true need ever being identified and even before a want is identified by some special-interest group!

The RAP tax, I suppose was well-intentioned. But, citizens and local politicians alike seem to view it as free money to spend on nice-to-have "quality-of-life" things. However, the RAP tax does not provide a penny for operation and maintenance of those nice-to-have "quality-of-life" things. Consequently, local politicians must resort to other forms of higher taxes to maintain and operate those nice-to-have "quality-of-life" things. Nobody ever seems to think about paying for the cost of running those nice-to-have "quality-of-life" things.

Taxing the People to pay for entertainment and recreation of people (and dogs) is clearly not a proper and necessary role of government. If it is, I want a free indoor shooting range.

When government exceeds it proper and necessary role of protecting life, liberty, and property, it invariably infringes on free enterprise. Suppose, for example, an entrepreneur wanted to start a for-profit Shakespeare theater, swimming pool, golf course, hiking trail, skateboard park, library, or zumba class in Cedar City. How can that entrepreneur possibly succeed when faced with current or planned tax-subsidized competition?

Anything that is not a proper and necessary role of government must be left to private enterprise in a free market. If not, it will invariably compete with, and stifle private enterprise.

It has long been my observation that real estate agents and developers like to talk about government-run, taxpayer-funded "quality of life" because it sells real estate. The trouble is that nearly every one of those "quality of life" projects benefit a very small portion of the people who are required pay for them. Unless they come to understand the proper role of government, "quality of life" is a strong argument against electing estate agents and developers to public office and against putting them into appointed positions -- they're using taxpayer money to further their personal business opportunities.

Ironically, many of the supporters of the RAP tax and the downtown revitalization tax contradictorily want smaller government and lower taxes. It is remarkable how much of what they want comes right out of the Communist Manifesto. I challenge them to be more consistent and liberty-minded.

The act of compulsory forfeiture of property (taxpayer money) to subsidize that which is not self-supporting to the benefit of a small minority is legalized theft and I cannot support it in any form. The RAP tax is and always has been a cancer. It must be soundly rejected by the voters at the earliest opportunity.

By deriving its just powers from the governed, government becomes primarily a mechanism for defense against bodily harm, theft, and involuntary servitude. It cannot claim the power to redistribute money or property nor to force reluctant citizens to perform acts of charity against their will. Government is created by the people. No individual possesses the power to take another's wealth or to force others to do good, so no government has the right to do such things either. The creature cannot exceed the creator. — Ezra Taft Benson (The Constitution – A Heavenly Banner)

Among the natural rights [of the people] are these: first, a right to life; secondly, to liberty; thirdly to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can. — Samuel Adams (1772)

Each individual of the society has a right to be protected by it in the enjoyment of his life, liberty, and property, according to standing laws. He is obliged, consequently, to contribute his share to the expense of this protection; and to give his personal service, or an equivalent, when necessary. But no part of the property of any individual can, with justice, be taken from him, or applied to public uses, without his own consent, or that of the representative body of the people. In fine, the people of this commonwealth are not controllable by any other laws than those to which their constitutional representative body have given their consent. — John Adams (Thoughts on Government, 1776)

I believe that God has endowed men with certain inalienable rights as set forth in the Declaration of Independence and that no legislature and no majority, however great, may morally limit or destroy these; that the sole function of government is to protect life, liberty, and property, and anything more than this is usurpation and oppression. — Ezra Taft Benson (The Proper Role of Government, p 281-303)

No comments:

Post a Comment