You've got to admire the Legislature for its imagination in finding new ways to earn the wholehearted contempt of the people of Arizona—and, to the extent to which they pay any attention to our dopey little border state, the derision of people everywhere.
The introduction of a bill asking Arizonans to donate money to the state's coffers is the latest contempt-worthy maneuver. The apparent goal of this devilishly clever move by Rep. Judy Burges (R-Skull Valley) is to embarrass the Democrats, who keep annoying her by saying that the people of Arizona would be willing to contribute more than they do to keep the state solvent and functioning.
Her tactic is supposed to work because a) very few people will care to chip in ("Excuse me? Give that bunch of chimps a dime?!"), and b) the amount raised will be ludicrously small in comparison to the deficit. Hence, another huge win for the GOP!
This is over-sophisticated. The people who look bad, who have looked bad and who will continue to look bad are the mouth-breathing anti-tax ideologues who got the state into this mess by refusing to levy adequate taxes to fund the services and infrastructure we all need.
History teaches us, oh my children, that governments have found taxation to be their only source of dependable funding. So unless the Legislature can capture an Incan gold hoard or find some monasteries to disestablish, it must raise taxes. (But wait! Maybe assembling an army of conquest and marching on Las Vegas is their next plan. We can hope.)
The state income tax—the fairest means of moving money out of private hands and into the common purse (along with luxury and sin taxes)—is simply too low. I say this because of my 30-year experience as an Arizona taxpayer.
My husband and I have state income tax withheld from our paychecks. Do we like that? Of course not—we'd prefer to have everything the state provides for free—but as lucid, adult Homo sapiens, we recognize that's not possible. And, to tell the truth, we're OK with it, since the small percentage the state gets is hardly causing us to go hungry.
But, holy cow, every year, the state gives us back about $2,000. And we get this big old refund even in years when the federal government keeps every penny it collected (and sometimes demands more, which we are obliged to pay, or else go to prison. The "go to prison" aspect is a really important part of extracting money from your citizenry, because, honestly, people are never, ever going to cough up if you give them a choice. I'm just making notes as I go along for our Republican legislators, so that they can follow).
And every year, Ed and I are astounded. The state of Arizona doesn't want our money? Doesn't need our money? Has no conceivable use for that two grand? Apparently everything in the state of Arizona has always been in such fabulous shape that, year after year, after going to all the trouble of collecting lots of money from us, all they can think to do is send a big chunk of it back.
Yet we do feel that we have been adequately taxed over the years—by, for instance, having to put our children through private schools because the public ones were, in our opinion, wholly inadequate. (As people for whom the education thing has worked out pretty well, we tend to think it's important.) We know that however financially painful this was for us, we were lucky to be able to do it; lots of people, of course, can't. Those people pay for low, low state taxes with the ignorance and crappy job prospects of their children.
We realize that we're taxed in other ways, too. We pay every time a kid who's waiting on us is supposed to make change and can't, and every time a high-tech company thinking about relocating to Tucson goes somewhere else after its employees get a look at our public schools. We pay with every environmental degradation. And we pay a little every time we're humiliated by seeing Arizona at the bottom of another survey of the 50 states.
Here is a universal and unalterable truth: You get what you pay for. In Arizona, we're getting it in spades.