Why is a group such as CitizensForTaxFairness.org needed?
In South Davis County, local government units (cities, special districts, the school district and county government) collect and spend hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. A good percentage of this spending is for core government functions, but much is not. Most officials are doing a good job in managing taxpayer resources, but some are not and all can probably do better. Most consider themselves to be conservative but many, quite frankly, never saw a tax increase or new government program that they didn't like.
Our public officials are good people; however, as presidential candidate, Ross Perot observed, they are often caught up in a bad system. The system favors catering to special interests who constantly ask for more. It leads public officials to believe that all citizens support new taxes and more government programs since no one is lobbying them day after day to keep taxes down and to control government growth. The system tells public officials that taxpayers can always afford a few dollars more in taxes. After a period of time in the system, some public officials come to think of taxpayers as a never-ending source of revenue. And they come to believe that it is their money rather than our money.
The system lets public officials establish multiple taxing districts that make it difficult for citizens to understand or control taxes. One district increases taxes a little this year and another one raises them a little more next year. Public officials, therefore, increase taxes in small increments, and like a frog in water that is being slowly brought to a boil, the taxpayer is unaware of what is happening until it is too late. Some public officials increase electric, water and sewer fees and then transfer funds from these accounts into the general fund. Then they proudly proclaim that they have held taxes steady while increasing government spending. Others use taxes approved by the voters for specific programs for totally different functions.
The system allows public officials to submit tax increases to the voters so they can deflect the responsibility for higher taxes away from themselves. In order to ensure passage, elections are scheduled at a time when voter turnout will be at its lowest. Public newsletters, facilities, resources and web sites are used to support the tax increase. When less than 10% of registered voters approve the increase, public officials declare a resounding victory.
The system encourages doing more of the same rather than thinking out of the box, developing long-term strategic plans and restraining government programs and spending. Consequently, officials look to government to meet new demands rather than mobilizing service groups, volunteers and the private sector.
Unless citizens provide ongoing oversight of the system, it inevitably results in higher taxes, more government programs and possibly even unethical or illegal activities. Groups such as CitizensForTaxFairness.org can, therefore, provide the reality check that both public officials and the community need. This benefits the entire community through lower taxes, fewer government programs, more private initiative, greater community involvement and better public officials.
How is CitizensForTaxFairness.org organized and funded?
CitizensForTaxFairness.org is a purely volunteer group. We do not have a formal organization or officers. We do not have staff, an office or even a mailing address or telephone number. We are purely web based and rely on e-mail for communications. Participants are advised of meetings where policy decisions are taken and action plans developed and implemented. Action updates let participants know when action is needed and where to be. When a flier is required, participants design it and pay for copies out their own pockets. When an ad is to be placed, citizens step forward to pay for it and when a website is needed, it is paid for by personal funds.
If you don't have officers or funding, how do you function?
Everyone does whatever she or he can. Some do more and some do less but when action is required, everyone pitches in and brings along their friends and neighbors. It may not appear to be terribly well organized but it works because we are real citizens interfacing with our public officials and trying to help them do their best in a tough system. And, public officials know that we vote and that we are active in our political parties.
How can I get involved?
If you live in the South Davis County, Utah area which includes Bountiful, Centerville, North Salt Lake, West Bountiful and Woods Cross you can join CitizensForTaxFairness.org in our various activities and projects that focus on this specific area. If you live in Davis County, you can join with us when we address countywide issues involving special districts, the school district and the County Commission.
Wherever you reside, you can still contribute material for our website, join with is on our projects, attend our meetings, contact public officials, show up at public hearings to support us, etc. However, to be really effective, we strongly encourage you set up your own citizens group to serve your city and county. We stand ready to help you get going and to support you once you are up and running.
If we have groups similar to CitizensForTaxFairness.org in communities throughout the state, each focusing on local issues, we can improve government operations and control taxes statewide. In addition, when one group needs help, all of the other groups can mobilize to provide support whether it be developing and sharing materials, attending meetings or canvassing neighborhoods.
Each group only needs a small number of continuously active participants. When action is needed, the many lesser active participants will rapidly mobilize. Working together, your group and groups in nearby communities can greatly enhance each other''s effectiveness whether it be at the city, special district, county or state level.
Why is your definition of tax fairness so expansive?
Tax fairness begins with the tax rate and who pays the taxes but it goes well beyond that. It is important to limit taxes to the support of core functions of government and to ensure that they do not unduly burden any of our citizens. And we focus on that. But, tax fairness also requires that public officials recognize that just because they have the authority to tax, it does not give them a license to spend.
Public officials are stewards of public funds and as such they have a personal responsibility to each taxpayer to only use the funds in the most responsible, frugal and legal manner possible. When a doubt exists on the legality of an expenditure or program or when even the perception of impropriety could possibly exist, public officials should error on the side of caution and not make the expenditure or implement the program.
Emphasis should be on saving taxpayer funds, returning surpluses to the taxpayers and cutting taxes rather than on spending every last dime, expanding programs, passing bonds that pass indebtedness on to future generations or collecting large surpluses to be used for discretionary projects.
Why are our South Davis city and Davis county officials so supportive of tax increases and new government programs?
This is an interesting question. Some argue that it is because a large proportion of the county's population is employed by government (local, state, federal) and this leads them to support more government and higher taxes.
Others suggest that it is because so many people work for non-profits and they are used to organizations taking a leading role in helping others.
Still others say that it is because of the "Nice" factor that permeates Utah politics. Under this theory, public officials and citizens want to be "nice" so when a special interest asks for new programs or taxes, they bend over backwards to provide them rather than asking those making the request to find a way to take care of it themselves.
Yet others suggest that it is because of a form of "group think." They point out that only a handful of people are actively engaged in the political process and these relatively few people show up over and over again as elected officials, members of boards and commissions, religious leaders, etc. This group of elites all think alike and this leads to doing more of the same (more government, more taxes).
Quite frankly, we don't know what the answer is. If you have any suggestions, please go to the Contact page and send them to us.
How does CitizensForTaxFairness.org determine what are core functions of government?
To help determine if something is a core function of government, we consider the following:
Do I have a right to force an elderly widow living on a fixed income to pay for the function through taxes?
Is this function expressly delegated to the government by either the United States or Utah constitution?
Is the function so intimately related to the public interest that it must be performed by public employees?
Can this function be handled by individuals, private businesses, service groups, and/or charitable organizations?
Is the function currently provided or has it been provided in the past by individuals, private enterprise, service groups and/or charitable organizations?
So, based on the above, what are some core functions of government?
To protect persons (law enforcement, public health, etc.).
To safeguard individual liberty and private property.
To establish the "rule of law" and a system of justice (courts, jails, corrections).
To ensure access to an appropriate education.
To serve as a steward of public property.
To provide physical infrastructure not provided by the private sector (roads, water and sewer systems, etc.).
What are examples of non-core functions.
Quality of life projects - subsidies for the arts, fitness centers, open space initiatives, etc.
Community television stations.
Wealth redistribution programs.
I've heard that the citizens of Utah are among the highest taxed in the nation. Is that true?
But, if government doesn't provide quality of life functions, who will?
First of all, how do you define a quality of life issue? Is it something that you enjoy doing or a group of people enjoy doing or the entire community enjoys?
Utah has hundreds of thousands of firearm owners, therefore, should shooting ranges be provided by local communities and paid for by taxpayer funds? No? Lots of firearms owners would probably argue that this ranks high on the quality of life list for them.
What about the Boy Scouts? Tens of thousands of boys throughout Utah participate in the Scouting program. Shouldn''t it be funded by taxpayers since it improves the quality of life of so many individuals? No? Again, lots of families would argue that Scouting ranks high on their list of priorities?
Then how about the arts or an aquarium? Shouldn't the entire community be required to subsidize them through mandatory taxes? Yes, say supporters of the arts and the aquarium. But what makes them so important that they deserve to be publicly funded while shooters and Scouts have to look out for themselves?
The answer, is that if firearms owners value shooting ranges, they should build them and if people believe that Scouting provides an important community service, they should volunteer their time and/or support the Scouts financially. Likewise if people support the arts and aquariums, they should roll up their sleeves and not expect the taxpayers to do the job for them.
Why should I be concerned if government does things that businesses or private individuals can do?
Private businesses create wealth for the community. When a business fails, jobs are lost and the tax base shrinks. On the other hand, a government funded and subsidized operation takes money from the community. With one or two minor exceptions, government facilities don''t pay taxes nor do they create rents or profits that can be reinvested back into the community.
When government takes over functions from private individual's, it teaches them to rely on others. Government programs take away the reason for service clubs like the Lions to exist by taking over their projects. It finally comes to the point, that as occurred during the flawed August 3, 2004 special election in South Davis County, that rather than asking the Lions to help raise funds, build or furnish a new recreation center, Bountiful city officials collected $5,000 from the Bountiful Lions club to fund brochures supporting a tax increase. The message here is that service now consists of forcing people to fund projects through taxes.
We think it would be better if elected officials helped organize the entire community to raise funds for and/or to build nice-to-have projects rather than forcing everyone to pay through new or higher taxes.
This would help bring the community together rather than treating everyone as just a taxpayer who is forced to write out a check once a year. It would teach self-reliance, service and volunteerism. And, when the project was completed, it would truly be a community center, community sports field or community park.
Of course, this requires time and effort and it is much easier to just force people to pay up and then turn everything over to unelected civil servants to run. Or, as mayor Joe Johnson of Bountiful said during a discussion of the South Davis Recreation District Board's responsibility for project change orders during the December 13, 2004 Board Meeting which he chairs: "Do you have time for that? I don't have time for that," said Bountiful Mayor Joe Johnson, adding that Bountiful [city] staff had been making decisions and should continue to do so. (http://www.standard.net/standard/news/print_story.html?sid=00041213233019265644)