Here's Something: Have fear, tax day is here

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I was driving south on Route 95 near Waterville last week when out of nowhere this brown SUV came speeding by, followed closely by a state trooper.

After they blew by me and sped out of sight, it dawned on me I’d just witnessed my first high-speed car chase. Having seen plenty on TV and movies, I slowed to about 60 mph in anticipation of either an upcoming crash or cops making an arrest in the road. All the other drivers around me also slowed, in similar anticipation.

I drove for probably 15 miles and eventually resumed regular highway speed, figuring the driver left the highway with police still in pursuit. But in between the two Waterville exits, there was a slowing of traffic and then a complete standstill. Up ahead I saw the flicker of blue lights.

When it was my turn to pass through the scene, I saw a man lying in the grass on the side of the highway surrounded by all sorts of police and rescue officials. There had to be at least 15 emergency vehicles lining the highway.

As I glanced over at the guy who thought he could avoid apprehension, it occurred to me that our tax dollars provided this devastating show of force that literally stopped a criminal in his tracks. Yes, it takes brave first responders to enforce the law and I truly appreciate their work and sacrifice, but it also takes plenty of tax money to make it all possible.

In this age of profound disagreement about government spending, it’s safe to say all taxpayers want their tax dollars spent wisely. I think we’d all agree this overwhelming show of police force was also an example of good government. Alas, if only all our tax dollars were spent so wisely.

Although taxes aren’t due until April 18 this year, April 15 is the traditional tax deadline day. Most of us April 15-fearing citizens have already rendered unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and those who haven’t are just about as stupid as that dude on the highway, thinking they can outrun the tax authorities. There may be a few who enjoy paying their taxes, but for me this time of year is mostly infuriating, knowing I’m enabling a system that treats taxpayers as limitless money trees.

I have a few ideas that could improve this taxing reality.

First, taxes shouldn’t be due in April. They should be due in the fall, when people are voting for the politicians who are responsible for determining taxation. If the deadline were moved to October or November, the cringing and teeth-gnashing brought on by tax season would be fresh and voters would be more likely to favor a tax-cutting candidate. Did Democrats of old set the tax deadline so it’s as far away from Election Day as possible? Just wondering.

Second, why do so many taxes come out of our paychecks? And why does the government swipe a good chunk of our income before we even get our hands on it? Instead, we should devise a new way to pay those Medicare, Social Security, state and federal taxes.

Imagine if, at your place of work, there were five windows similar to the ones bank tellers use. At the first window, your boss would hand over your earnings for the week, in cash. You’d then approach the other four windows where government officials would demand their “withholdings.” Medicare would take its 1.45 percent. Social Security would grab its 4.45 percent. And then the state and federal representatives would take their more sizable chunks.

This sort of tax-paying regime would result in two new realities: Taxpayers would be more aware of how much the government takes – especially if forced to hand over cash. And those same taxpayers would make darn sure their tax contributions were being spent properly. They may even run for public office to ensure proper spending.

My nephew Daniel, who started his first job last fall, learned the bitter truth about taxes when he received his first paycheck. Over Christmas he shared his initial shock and lingering disappointment concerning how much the government withheld. He said it would limit how much he could spend on things he had to buy.

“Welcome to modern American life, Dan. Don’t forget to vote conservative on Election Day,” was my reply.

Some taxation is necessary and good. Most of us agree we need government to provide security and good infrastructure. Pretty much everything else, however, wastes our tax money, infuriates the working class and holds back personal and societal progress.

It’s time government gets back to basics and makes April 15 a little less fearsome for the working class.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.

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