This week my mind has been reeling as I sort through the seemingly endless flood of information about politics on the federal, state and local level. An overload of information about federal tax changes being proposed, regulation changes, and on and on. Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of much of it and put things in perspective.
So stepping back and thinking about the role of government at its most basic level, in my mind it’s all about providing for the common good that cannot be effectively provided through the free market.
So, national defense for example, is not something that each of us can go out and purchase on our own through the marketplace. Roads and bridges are provided by state and local governments because it’s not efficient to have a market based, or pay-as-you go system (unless we wanted to pay a toll every quarter mile). Public education and public safely are other important examples of tax-supported common good.
Nonprofits also provide for the common good when it cannot be provided by the free market, providing emergency assistance when a tornado rips through a community, or assistance to low-income families struggling to get on their feet, or making arts accessible to everyone in the community.
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Donors voluntarily support nonprofits, providing these services that other community members receive, just as tax payers support services that community members receive. Of course the big difference is taxes are not voluntary and we all have our own opinions about what is needed for the common good to have a successful community that should be supported by our taxes. I guess that cacophony of opinions is what sent my mind reeling this week (and my allergies acting up this week certainly added to the fog).
I believe we can find common ground regarding the common good and what is required for a successful community.
My foundation is engaged in an initiative we call our Eastern Jackson County Community for All Ages Coalition. Our focus is on the changing demographics, with 500 boomers every month reaching age 65 in just the Eastern Jackson County area, and the challenges and opportunities presented by this demographic shift that will result in the doubling of our population over age 65 in the next 15 years.
One clear and common theme we hear is that the vast majority of us as we age want to age in place, and remain in our homes in the communities we know and love for as long as possible. And we know that is preferred option, not only for older adults but also for the taxpayer, particularly when the situation involves a low-income senior whose alternative to aging in place is going to a nursing home supported by Medicaid.
One of the issues related to older adults that has been part of this week’s flood of information is a proposal in Jefferson City to eliminate a property tax credit that enables low income older adults to age in place and stay in their home. The proposal would eliminate the credit for people who rent their home.
At first blush this seemed to make sense since they are not paying property taxes. However, when I thought about this situation further I realized we have older adults who have not been able to successfully purchase and have their home paid off by retirement (which is the plan of many of us) and are therefore renting. And the owner of the property is most certainly including the cost of property taxes in their rent. I learned this week that low-income families typically pay 42 percent of their income on housing compared to the national median of 22 percent.
So these renters, in my mind, certainly need this tax credit (which averaged $535 last year) as much as those who own their home. That $535 tax credit can make a significant impact on these households who are earning less than $29,500 to qualify. I urge our lawmakers in Jefferson City to utilize “common sense for the common good” as they debate this tax credit and other tax issues.
I believe if we truly have dialogue about creating a community for all ages in Washington, in Jefferson City, and on the local level, we will find common ground regarding what is necessary for the common good that cannot be provided through the free market and is a good investment for our taxes. There are important services provided through our taxes that enable us to have successful communities, and we need common sense dialogue focused on the common good and less political posturing that seems to often focus on how we can reduce taxes and who is winning in the political game.
We need to change the name of the game to “common sense for the common good.”