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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Taxation By Fees is Inherently Unfair

By now, you've probably heard about Tennessee homeowner Gene Cranick. The victim of government cost-containment gone mad, Cranick watched as his home burned down -- as did local firefighters.

About that assault on Fire Chief: The Messenger, a local newspaper, has the skinny:

Timothy A. Cranick, 44, a resident of Buddy Jones Road near South Fulton, was arrested and charged with felony aggravated assault, according to South Fulton Police Chief Andy Crocker.

Crocker said the assault stemmed from a fire that occurred earlier in the day and he identified Cranick as a family member of the person whose property burned.

He said Cranick allegedly came to the fire station looking for Wilds, according to witnesses. When the fire chief identified himself and asked if he could help him, Cranick allegedly struck [South Fulton Fire Chief David] Wilds.

"He just cold-cocked him," Crocker said, based on witness statements.

Crocker said Wilds was knocked down, rendering him virtually defenseless. He said Cranick was pulled off the fire chief by other firefighters who restrained him until additional help arrived.

Cranick was taken to the Obion County Law Enforcement Complex and was later taken to the hospital in Union City for treatment of a hand injury sustained in the incident.

So that worked out well for all involved. Yup, that there's what y'call some of that "good gummint." Part of the problem here is the belief that taxes are inherently evil. And, whenever a service is taken off the tax rolls, the funding is replaced by fees. For an example of the opposite, up here in Wisconsin we're considered residents of a high tax state. As a result, there isn't a single toll road in Wisconsin. The closest thing I can think of is a ferry up in Merrimack, but that's really more of a novelty than a necessity -- it actually takes less time to take an alternate route. It's mostly used by tourists, who think it's fun. Speaking of tourists, licensing fees are comparatively low, which means things like boat and snowmobile registration, hunting and fishing licenses, admission to state parks, etc. are cheap. Wisconsin is were Illinois goes for the weekend, making tourism a major industry here and bringing in revenues from outside Wisconsin.

And, even better, if your freakin' house starts on fire, someone will come and put it out, regardless of how much money you have. When it comes to government services, you're going to pay one way or the other; if you stop getting taxed, you're going to be soaked with fees. It's just math. As much as you may want to believe that all these government services just fall out of the sky, they cost money. And that means you've got to pay.

You may argue that the fee system is fairer. That under progressive taxation, those who can afford to pay are paying for those who can't and someone's getting a free ride. But this assumes that everyone who has a fire needs exactly seventy-five bucks worth of firefighting. Cranick's home was pretty small, yet $75 dollars would've covered a mansion as well. Wouldn't this mean that under a flat fee structure,the pricing is unfair to Cranick? If tax fairness is the goal here, this doesn't seem to be the way to achieve it, since a fee is just a tax in disguise.

So let's try this: price the firefighting coverage based on the worth of the structure. The more expensive the property, the more it costs to provide fire service. Maybe people with more expensive properties should pay more and people with less expensive properties pay less. That'd be fairer, wouldn't it? I mean, why should some guy in a trailer, for example, pay as much as some guy with a big milk barn? He's never going to use the resources it'd take to fight a barnfire, so he's kind of getting ripped off here. If $75 is the yardstick measure for the risk pool (and we are talking a sort of insurance here, most structures never burn), then maybe the trailer should be below that and the barn above it.

That sounds fairer, don't you think? Right now, the barn owner's getting something of a freebie and the trailer owner's paying for it.

Oddly enough, this fairer structure exists all over the country -- it's called a "property tax." Maybe Obion County, Tennessee should give it a try. It's pretty clear that this taxation by fee idea not only isn't working, but is pretty unfair.


UPDATE: Think Progress reports that, despite the obvious failure of the system and the national embarrassment caused by that failure, Obion County has decided to expand the fee-for-fire-protection program to include more towns. It gets worse:

Union City Fire Department Chief Kelly Edmison objects to the new expansion, saying that "the best option is a true fire tax. It eliminates this having 911 or whoever check to say, 'Are they covered or not covered?' The last thing a firefighter wants to do is to not be able to help when they'd like to." According to documents prepared by the county in 2008, a paltry 0.13 cent increase in property taxes on each household would be all it would take to fund fire services for the towns within the county.

So, continue to rip off residents with a flat fee or raise taxes a miniscule amount to make it fairer for all and cheaper for most?


Yeah, screw the math -- and the fee-payers. Stupidity is not a rare commodity on the Obion County board, apparently.

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