[T]he accounting firm which prepares my taxes has done a very thorough and complete job [to] pay taxes as legally due. I don’t pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don’t think I’d be qualified to become president.
– Mitt Romney, July 29
Michael Takiff has a piece on HuffingtonPost about his father disputing Mr. Romney’s comment that paying “more than is legally due” makes one unfit for the presidency. It’s a moving profile of Takiff’s father’s life, and how he saw tax-paying as patriotic–the right thing to do.
For me, it’s more than that. But it hasn’t always been that way. When I was young I resented the hell out of paying taxes. I saw it as unfair, as little more than legislated robbery. Each April I sat, tight-lipped, as I got the bad news, wrote a check, and mailed it off.
And then I got pregnant. I made a lot of decisions that seemed like the best ones at the time, and may have been, but that certainly weren’t above question. I chose to keep my baby, and to start a home-based business doing design so that I could raise him myself, rather than delegate his babyhood to a series of caregivers. It seemed like the right decision at the time–and it still does; I’ve never regretted it–but as I said, there were certainly other ways of looking at it.
In spite of the fact that my decision wasn’t the “right” one to a number of my family, they helped–a sister hired me to do design work for her. My brother and his wife made a room available in their house for several months. My parents put the down payment on a nice, but reasonably priced townhouse for me. My old bosses in California continued to send me work–and started referring me to people they knew who might need my services. I had help. I had a lot of help. But the fact remaind that as a result of my decisions my son and I lived well below the poverty line for a number of years.
And so I did something that was, for me, a source of deep shame–I got yet more help…from The Government. I applied for, and got, WIC. And, and shameful as it was–and yes, there were grocery store clerks who make sure I understood the Shame of WIC–I used it. And as a result, my son and I at better, healthier foods than we would otherwise have been able to afford. And when tax time came around, I got the Earned Income Credit. I got back more money than I had paid in. And I was grateful. It made a huge difference.
And then my old boss in California referred me to a major corporation, and I began designing books for a small press, and that year at tax time my tax lady told me regretfully that I owed a few thousand dollars in taxes.
I can’t tell you how great it felt to write that check. Writing it proved that, at long last, I was on my way. I had earned enough money that the United States of America had decided that I could start contributing again.
I’m not crazy about it–I hire a good tax preparer, and adjust my income to factor in my business expenses. But I don’t finagle. And when I write the check, I am grateful. Because while I might not be rich compared to many, I am rich compared to many more. Like everybody, I have been challenged by the last few years–but those challenges have been caused not by government, but by private institutions–mortgage companies, credit card companies, insurance companies. Government has played a role, true, in eroding the safeguards that limited private industry depredations in the past, but the real culprits were the private companies that enriched themselves at the expense of the rest of us. And continue to do so.
But for me, that’s beside the point. I pay my taxes because I understand, in a real sense, that I have benefitted from the good that is America–and because I am proud now to be a part of that good for others. My money goes to maintain many of the goods and services that I use. It goes to help take care of the old. And it goes to help other women and children like my son and me, women who, for whatever reason, find themselves needing help.
Of course, it also goes for earmarks, for obscenely large defense contracts, and for boondoggles, which is why I am politically active, why I write letters to my congressmen when I have something to say, and why I vote. Government isn’t perfect, and I don’t much care for how they use the money I give them sometimes. But overwhelmingly, I believe that my money goes to help keep us all connected, healthy, and safe.
Mr. Romney believes that paying the very least he can equips him to be president. I have to wonder if that translates to how he would execute the office of the presidency. Does he plan to spend as little time as possible in governing? Does he plan to give to the office the bare minimum he is legally mandated to provide? Will he be conspicuous by his absence? Will he outsource us? Will we call the White House and discover we’re talking to call center on the other side of the world?
Except for the very limited information Mr. Romney has released, I don’t know how much tax he pays. I do know, though, based on his own words, that he hires people who devote a great deal of time, effort, and yes, money, to seeing to it that his taxes are smaller percentage of his income than most off us pay.
And maybe that’s legal. Is it right? I wouldn’t presume to make that call for Mr. Romney. All I know is that for me, paying taxes isn’t a game. It’s a responsibility that I incur every time I benefit from what our tax dollars provide. It’s a way of paying forward the help I received when I needed it most. Most of all, it’s an acknowledgment that I am an American. I am both an individual, and a part of something much, much larger. I make a difference. I matter. I have it in my power to make life a little easier for those who are struggling, to offer opportunities to those who need them.
Paying our fair share of taxes is our civic responsibility. Why and how we pay them is much, much more.