Property Rights

You Get What You (Don’t) Pay For

“Taxation is theft!”

While true, shifting the debate over taxation to its logical conclusion at the outset causes many people to simply ask: “Then how should government services be funded?”

Much of the debate over this question can only be resolved by determining which services the government should actually be providing. What, in other words, is the proper role of government?

Let’s address Utah specifically, where (for example) the state is constitutionally obligated to provide educational services to the children of its citizens—a requirement that deviates from government’s proper role. How should these schools be funded?

Currently, they are funded by a mixture of taxes—52% from state revenue (100% of state income taxes goes to education), 38% from local revenue (a substantial portion of your property taxes), and 10% from the federal government.

Under this system, a family with 10 kids is able to receive the same services as a family with only one child. Both families are compelled to pay the same taxes, though their differing family makeup produces an additional inequity—heads of large households pay little to no income tax because of the exemptions they’re able to receive for each dependent. $2,850 in personal tax exemptions are added up for every individual in the family.

Attempts have been made over the years to address this inequity, most recently by Senator Jones last month. Jones’ proposal would eliminate this tax exemption, thereby generating roughly $400 million in new taxation.

The Utah Taxpayers Association strongly opposes this proposal, saying that “the largest [tax] increase the state has ever seen” would be a “good way to convince businesses to invest in Idaho, Colorado or Wyoming.” While we strongly oppose the income tax itself, its burden should not be inequitably applied; the state should not pick and choose who will feel its adverse effects.

Those who utilize government services should pay for them. It is not unreasonable to suggest that parents who chose to have many children should bear the burden of their upbringing. The decision to procreate has a cost associated with it—food, clothing, shelter, and yes, education, are some of the necessary expenses that come with raising children. While those in dire need should be given assistance, the general population should not socialize the cost of their own family decisions through coercive means upon their neighbors.

It is therefore not unreasonable to suggest that large families should pay larger amounts into the education system. In this, Jones’ proposal is praiseworthy and worth exploring. However, it is only worth supporting to the extent that it minimizes the burden of education funding on those who do not have children receiving educational services from the state. Newlyweds, senior citizens, and others without children should not be compelled to subsidize the family decisions of their neighbors.

Senator Jones agreed with this, at least in part, during last week’s meeting. Representative Eliason had asked about why the tax burden should be increased on large families—those who “are bearing the greatest expenses of raising children,” he said. Jones replied: “What you’re saying is that families that have six children… should be subsidized by those who do not get the exemption.”

Taxation is theft, and the costs that should be borne by those who receive certain services are all too easily spread out amongst the general population. Arguing that “we all benefit from an educated population” to justify forcing other families to foot the bill is a mistake, just like arguing that churches should be similarly financed because, as John Adams said, “it is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand.” The ends do not justify the means. Important causes do not necessitate forcing people to pay for them under threat of fines and jail time.

You and I should get what we pay for. Instead, under the current system, people quite often get what they don’t pay for—so-called “entitlements,” constitutionally required or otherwise, that allow them to benefit from the financial enslavement of their peers.

Taxation, while it exists, should be borne equitably and reasonably, which means requiring that those who benefit from government services should be paying for them more than those who do not.

  • Mary

    So it stands to reason then that those without children in the public school system, including those who choose to homeschool, should receive a tax exemption.

  • JeremyScottPeters

    I believe in a small government supported by our inspired constitution. But since essential any tax is theft, how do we fund the smallest government possible without the theft of tax?

  • DBreit1

    In theory, this seems fair….in application however, the cause and effect will be to limit family size – which will not fly well in Utah, given the history of promoting as many children as possible by the LDS Church…

  • @DBreit1 Somehow I doubt that a primary factor in people’s decisions to have children is the tax incentive that goes along with it.

  • DBreit1

    @cboyack That’s a clever retort there, and completely misses the point. While no one has babies for a tax credit, to remove an existing tax exemption per child will be seen as a punishment for those who have sought to fulfill God’s commands/prophetic counsel…a situation similar to the marriage tax penalty/removing marriage tax filing benefits/Obamacare encouraging spouses to divorce for lower payments – all have been enforced/advocated at varying times (and yes, I agree the underlying issue is whether or not there should be income tax at all).

  • @DBreit1 Yeah… I don’t think removing a tax exemption will be perceived by very many people as “punishment” against those following a divine mandate to multiply and replenish the earth. You’re conflating separate issues. And it doesn’t really matter what the perception is—what matters is what’s right, and we think it’s not right to allow large families to have their decisions be forcibly subsidized by others.

  • Mel

    Wish we could write off home school expenses… It would be less than we pay to the school district in property taxes each year!

  • @cboyack  @DBreit1 However in SLC I have a relative that was quite excited about her forth child as it gained her an additional bedroom from state housing assistance.

  • gfabs

    It seems your argument is getting lost in the weeds over minutiae.
    The bottom-line is that the Utah legislature passed a Utah State Constitutional requirement that ALL children in the State of Utah are guaranteed a free scholastic education.  This is what we call socialism. In this context, the term socialism is used in descriptive, rather than pejorative fashion.
    To argue that those with few children – if any at all – should shoulder a lesser financial burden in the education costs of those who have chosen to have many children is now irrelevant.  The legislature socialized education, and it seems reasonable that the funding for it should likewise be socialized – from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.
    In short, the moral agency for some to opt out of funding socialized education was removed when the vote for socialized education was passed.
    Lesson to be learned:  When we consent to the removal of our – and others’ – moral agency, we also consent to the price of said removal.

  • davidmpark

    In our situation, we can’t homeschool due to my wife’s multiple disabilities. My kids are in a cheaper charter school and are excelling above their peers for a much lower cost. What if that low-cost, high results secular education was allowed to go back to religious institutions?
    Those who have unique situations where they can’t homeschool can send their kids to a local school that doesn’t need to be high cost palaces to the state. But pre-existing buildings where they can have a good education for a good cost and be with their peers and neighbors in a safer environment.
    Would this work?

  • JonathanGal

    I agree.
    There is nothing righteous about having 10 children and then forcing others, with a threat of jail time to pay for their education. That’s not righteousness. That’s irresponsibility and theft.

  • JonathanGal

    I don’t see how you can reconcile LDS Church teachings with free market principles.
    I am leaving the Church, because it is too communal and socialistic. In my view, the Law of Consecration is only one small step short of outright Stalinism and/or Maoism.

  • JonathanGal

    Generally speaking, free markets are best at balancing supply and demand, including the supply of and demand for education.

  • JonathanGal

    The removal of free agency is an act that is generally attributed to Satan. Perhaps the State of Utah is possessed by the devil?

  • JonathanGal

    The founders viewed government as a necessary evil.
    Despite my admittedly overzealous comments above, I do agree that we need some government.
    Pure anarchy does seem a bit too chaotic.

  • JonathanGal

    At the risk of insulting our religion, many of the communal instincts in Utah, which you are fighting against, come from the LDS Church.
    And, so does the concept of replenishment and large families.
    If you really want to address the root of these issues in Utah, you’ve got to be willing and able to talk openly about, and even challenge, church doctrine.

  • JonathanGal

    How about leaving the cost of education and training in the hands of the corporations who do the hiring?
    If there is no demand for certain skills, then why should anyone pay to teach those skills in the first place?

  • Jacob Edward

    Commenting in-line:

    “Taxation is theft!”

    While true, shifting the debate over taxation to its logical conclusion at the outset causes many people to simply ask: “Then how should government services be funded?”

    Much of the debate over this question can only be resolved by determining which services the government should actually be providing. What, in other words, is the proper role of government?

    While valid questions, shifting the emphasis of the discussion to "roles" for government is not an actual response to the question of "Then how should government services be funded?"… in fact, it's almost a tacit confession that you believe the only way government can be funded is through taxation and you've accepted to just want to minimize the theft as much as possible…

    Here's the question rephrased: Why couldn't the government find sources of funding other than taxation?

    I'm not endorsing the General Motors acquisition, but creating a product to sell is one way (creating lots and lots of products is another)… as well as everything involved with the Federal Reserve and their large scale asset purchases… There are problems with hyper inflation if you try to fund the budget directly, but if the Fed was given a mandate to maximize their return on investments through large scale asset purchases, offsetting inflationary pressures by gradually raising fractional reserve lending requirements (the contractionary effects are offset by those large scale asset purchases, redeposited into those same banks, everything premeditated, everything technocratically calculated…) the only reason why the Fed isn't doing this right now is because that was not their official mandate from congress… have congress give the Fed the official mandate to maintain 2% inflation while maximizing their balance sheet, excess profits will go to the treasury while the principle and whatever growth rate from profit is deemed desirable is then re-invested… If you were to do this gradually over a period of hundreds of years (or whatever technocratically arrived figure that would be optimal but also maintaining a stable banking system with 2% inflation), you would eventually get to the point where the vast majority of the budget could be coming from sources other than taxation… obviously it would go faster if the government would reduce it's fiscal budget some but the principle is all the same.