THE TAX ATTIC — with Jerry Coon

What would Washington think?

Jerry Coon

It was 1783. The United States of America had just defeated Great Britain, the mightiest power on the face of the Earth. It was now free of the king’s tyranny. The Revolutionary War had lasted eight long years. America’s commander-in-chief, George Washington, was gravely concerned that eight years of effort would be wasted if America’s citizens didn’t step up and do the right thing.

What was his definition of the right thing? He enumerated four “pillars on which the glorious fabric of our independence and national character must be supported.” Washington went on to write that these pillars were vitally important, in fact, “I may even venture to say, to the existence of the United States as an independent power.” The four pillars were:

1. “an indissoluble union of the states under one federal head;”

2. “a sacred regard to public justice;”

3. “the adoption of a proper peace establishment;”

4. “the prevalence of that pacific and friendly disposition among the people of the United States which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and policies, to make those mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity, and, in some instances, to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the community.”

Washington was right. We needed a strong federal government and got it when the Constitution was ratified. We needed a sacred regard to public justice and got it when the Bill of Rights was passed. We needed a proper peace establishment and got that as part of both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Number four has been troublesome and has caused us problems since 1783. However, it may very well be the most important of the four. You can’t legislate number four. There is no constitutional amendment guaranteeing it will happen. Make mutual concessions? Sacrifice individual advantages? Tough stuff.

I wonder what Washington would think of the events that have been occurring in Wisconsin or even the budget reform that Governor Snyder is proposing. That’s difficult to say. There was no such a thing as collective bargaining in 1783. There certainly was no complicated tax system like we have today. Pensions, health insurance, fringe benefits—nothing of the sort existed in 1783. Things are much, much tougher to decipher today.

I think Washington’s basic message, however, would be the same: We all have to work together in the interest of the community at large. We are all in this boat together and if we expect the boat to keep floating, shared sacrifice is in season. It was a much smaller boat, in terms of people, back in 1783, but it was still a boat that required shared sacrifice. Washington, by sheer strength of character, was able to pull it together for America. Unfortunately, we don’t have a Washington to lead us today. There are no Solomons on the horizon. It’s up to us to work this out on our own amongst all of us. Washington was a strong believer in providential intervention. I think we should hope and pray for some of that providential help today.

There are some rumblings coming from Lansing that there may be a negotiated budget settlement in the works. Some things might change. The total budget would remain the same, but the moving parts within the budget might be adjusted. Pensions may not be fully taxed. A small fixed amount may not be taxable. A credit here or there might still make the cut. Perhaps the overall individual tax rate will have to remain at 4.35% to oblige these changes. There may be a reallocation of the education dollars so all levels of education take a reduction in funding and not primarily just the K-12 schools. Some of the post-secondary schools appeared to be keeping their funding intact at the expense of the K-12 schools. Not really fair.

Shared sacrifice is such a noble concept, after all, because it is shared. It gets off whack when one part of the boat gets raked more than another part of the boat. If it’s 40 lashes for everyone, now that’s shared sacrifice. If it’s 60 lashes for part of the boat and 20 lashes for the rest, that’s punishment. Let’s keep everyone sharing equally and give 40 lashes to everyone. Who knows, maybe we can stop at 35 lashes. This is Jerry Coon signing off.

Jerry Coon is an Enrolled Agent. He owns

Action Tax Service in Rockford. Contact Jerry


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