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September 14, 2003

That's What I'm Talking About

I knew that Tacitus would eventually say something that I would wholeheartedly agree with.

On the subject of taxation, I'm not so sure I share Ben Domenech's jubilation over the defeat of the Alabama tax plan (although I do agree with his assessment of Governor Riley's rhetorical excesses). Conservatism is not libertarianism: we concede the necessity of some taxation, so long as it's done justly and kept to the minimum necessary within the legitimate functions of government. I don't pretend to especial knowledge of the Alabama tax code, but from what I read it doesn't appear to meet those criteria:

Alabama has the nation's lowest state and local taxes per capita and ranks near the bottom in tests of public school performance. It also has more than 28,000 inmates in a prison system built for 12,000, and its state police force has only six troopers patrolling 67,500 miles of roadway after midnight. Riley's plan also aimed to shift the tax burden to the wealthiest Alabamians, who pay an effective tax rate of 3 percent, from the poorest, who pay 12 percent.

Now, if the parks system or the state arts council was underfunded, I'd say let 'em starve. But prisons and cops -- and yes, even public education -- are legitimate functions of government at that level, and so I have to ask whether underfunding them is really the conservative thing to do. Also, while I'm more or less a flat-taxer, I think it's pretty clear that a progressive tax code is more just than a regressive one; and that's something Riley's plan would have fixed. All in all, the whole episode and the anti-tax rejoicing in the aftermath points to an increasing cognitive dissonance in Republican circles. The notion of taxation as an evil in itself is useful as a tactical tool, but it's not useful as an analytic tool: you don't get good governance if you focus on cutting taxes in the absence of any consideration of legitimate budgetary needs or any effort to concurrently reduce spending. But that's exactly what's happening, in the Congress and in Alabama. It's worrisome and I daresay wrongheaded; and my saying so will forever bar me from winning a GOP primary in Loudon County, Virginia.

Perhaps we can write off Loudon County, but not the country.

Posted by mbowen at September 14, 2003 08:37 PM

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"Alabama has the nation's lowest state and local taxes per capita and ranks near the bottom in tests of public school performance."

Leave it to the Washington Post to promote this false dichotomy without any evidence that one is related to the other.

New Hampshire also has among the lowest state and local taxes per capita but ranks near the top in public schools.

Posted by: Lance Jonn Romanoff at September 15, 2003 09:41 AM