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Carol Platt Liebau

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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review.


A “Taxing” Responsibility
The Power to Change Sacramento Rests With Us
[Carol Platt Liebau] 7/7/03

Independence Day is a wonderful time to be an American – and almost the only time the miracle of our country’s birth is widely discussed, at least in the major media.

Today, notwithstanding the ongoing celebration of our country’s birthday, it is more unusual than ever to catch any reference to the anti-tax outrage that played so prominent a role in our nation’s founding. American colonists were enraged by the Sugar Act – which taxed sugar, wine and coffee imported into the colonies, and by the Stamp Act, which mandated that tax stamps be first purchased and then affixed to virtually every paper good from newspapers to cards. The Townshend Acts of 1767 provoked opposition by taxing tea, paper, paint, glass and other vital imports. And, of course, the Boston Tea Party of 1773 was at its heart a tax revolt – colonists were expressing their displeasure with the Tea Act, which exempted Birtain’s East India Tea Company from the regular taxes imposed on colonial merchants.

Given the widespread opposition to the taxes imposed upon them, it is no wonder that the colonists who wrote the Declaration of Independence – our Founding Fathers – condemned the King for “For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent.”

And so one can’t help wondering what the Founding Fathers would have thought about our tax system. The mind reels imagining the Founding Fathers’ reaction to California – land of SB 204, a proposed statewide tax on disposable baby diapers and adult incontinence products (is there anything Sacramento won’t try to tax?). Certainly, it would have been hard for them to understand how any state could take $130 billion in state and local taxes, yet find it impossible to keep spending in line with income! And it seems certain that the Founding Fathers would have been appalled to learn that the citizens of the country they founded will have to work until July 11 – more than half the year – just to pay for the cost of their government, according to Americans for Tax Reform.

As hardworking merchants, farmers, professionals and tradesmen – as most of the Founding Fathers were – it seems safe to predict that, had they been Californians, they would have been angered by a recent report from the Tax Foundation showing that California ranks 46th among the 50 states using a State Business Tax Climate Index, with a corporate income tax burden nearly 40% above the national average (only Massachusetts and New Jersey are higher). The fact that the combination of federal, state and local taxes gives Californians the 4th highest tax burden in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation, wouldn’t have elicited many cheers, either (especially as there was no personal income tax at all in colonial times!). Certainly our Founding Fathers would have found it hard to imagine a society in which any state’s residents paid an average of 33% of their income as taxes.

The tax burden so despised by the colonists as unfair and oppressive is a feather-weight, compared to what Californians confront today – eighteenth-century tariffs on staples and luxury goods are no match for the towering stacks of tax-and-spend legislation coming out of Sacramento (and Washington, for that matter). Surely Americans would have protested had all these taxes been imposed at once, but the gradual accrual of taxes has guaranteed our acquiescence, if not our approval – a little bit like cooking a lobster, not by dropping it in boiling water, but by increasing the heat in small increments. The contrasting reactions between the colonists in the 1770’s and Americans today does modern America no honor.

And yet, reason for optimism exists. Unlike the colonists, we are being taxed by the representatives that we have put into power. The recognition (so revolutionary at the time) that a government derives its power only from the people means that every spendthrift in Sacramento today taxes us only at our sufferance.

With the power this truth gives us comes great responsibility – the responsibility to restrain the natural impulse of a government to grow and consume ever more of the fruits of its citizens’ productivity. Along with it comes the concomitant obligation to remind the government, constantly, that the tax money it takes actually belongs to “we, the people.”

Californians and Americans alike need to offer this reminder, more loudly and more constantly. We need to repeal any arrangement – like government withholding – that treats our money like it belongs primarily to the government, with only the “leftovers” to us. There is no reason that Americans shouldn’t be writing out checks to pay taxes on wages, dividends and interest, just as they write out checks for any other obligation they freely incur. The government that spends peoples’ tax money wisely has nothing to fear from their enhanced understanding of the tax burden they bear.

Between this Independence Day and next year’s, the people of California will face myriad political decisions. In confronting them, let us remain ever mindful of the inalienable rights conferred upon us by our Creator, and secured for us by our Founding Fathers, who pledged their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” so that posterity – the America of 2003 – would have the opportunity to live in a state and a country where the people, and not their government, would be the master.

CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.


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