For Easter, my friend and I traveled from Connecticut to visit family in Texas, a distance of nearly 2,000 miles. Two centuries ago, our journey would have taken months by land; a sailboat would have hastened our trip, although we would have feared pirates along the way.
In 2012, we sped down the Merritt Parkway, hopped a plane to Detroit, grabbed a burger at Fuddruckers, and caught another flight to San Antonio. The whole journey took about half a day. Sure, our airline seats were cramped and the Merritt was congested, but neither of us caught dysentery, fell off a horse, or perished at sea.
Public investments made it all possible, and gave us the luxury of worrying whether TSA would find the yogurt stashed in our carry-on’s, instead of whether we would find our trail blocked by bandits. Government built the Merritt Parkway and airports in New York, Michigan, and Texas; it kept our roadways and airways safe; and it pioneered the jet engines and air traffic control that made everything possible.
I mention this now because April 17 is Tax Day, when our income taxes come due. Many vilify this day, treating any dollar we pay in taxes as wasted. What gets ignored in this talk is why we pay taxes. We pay taxes for the things we can’t accomplish on our own — transportation; education; public safety; protection from illness; and defense from enemies, foreign and domestic.
Another fact often ignored is how, in Connecticut, while we all benefit from public goods and services, some among us work far less to maintain them. State and local taxes account for a far larger percentage of some people’s earnings than others’. Surprising though it may seem, the poorest 20 percent in Connecticut pay twice as much of their incomes as the richest 1 percent.
The effective state and local tax rate for the poorest fifth is 11.2 percent, more than twice the 5.5 percent paid by the wealthiest 1 percent, according to an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. People in the bottom 20 percent earn $12,700 a year on average, hundreds of times less than those in the top 1 percent who pull in $3.2 million on average. While some may argue everyone should chip in the same percent of their income, few would argue the wealthy should contribute less.
Either way, I think we all are glad previous generations paid their taxes to build modern transportation, secure our families, and educate our grandparents, parents, and ourselves. Paying taxes, voting on Election Day, serving in the armed forces when called upon — these are some of the responsibilities we owe as citizens to each other and future generations. Taxes are an annual payment for the freedom and security we now enjoy, and our children count on us to sustain them.
Wade Gibson is a senior policy fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children, where he focuses on state tax, budget, and economic policy.