As the final days of tax season come and go, North Carolinians are likely breathing a sigh of relief that they have fulfilled their duty this year. That responsibility for paying taxes is so rarely considered in the same light as the other civic responsibilities we so cherish as a society: to care for our neighbors, participate in our communities and serve our country. And yet, without taxes, we would be hard-pressed to fulfill those common goals.
It is only through the pooling of our resources that it is possible to invest in a more broadly shared well-being and a more vibrant, inclusive economy. One need only look at what North Carolina was like before our state’s tax system was in place to see just how stark the alternative is. There was no universal access to education for children, no roads connecting communities or farms to market, and no protection against economic calamities such as the crash of the stock market.
But we don’t have to look to the past to demonstrate the role of taxes in our everyday lives. The impacts of policymaker’s decisions last year to cut taxes, and in so doing reduce the state’s investments at a time of unprecedented need for families, businesses and the economy are just as stark as any historical portrait.
Learning for at least 20,000 students is more difficult as their teachers have lost their jobs and they have been moved to more crowded classrooms with fewer tools—textbooks and technology—to aid in learning.
Seeking an efficient, just decision in the courts is now more costly and likely to take longer as personnel was cut and fees were raised.
Making sure minor illnesses don’t turn into major hospitalizations is a challenge with fewer dollars invested in health education and prevention and less access to care and insurance coverage.
There were other choices to be made and greater leadership to be demonstrated. A call to a higher purpose, one requiring us all to contribute, could have minimized the pain felt across the state by families, businesses and communities alike. A commitment to reform our revenue system to make sure that it can adequately invest in what will propel the state forward and do so in a way that asks us all to contribute according to our means could have positioned us today for a more stable and vibrant future.
Nearly every day throughout the year, not just at tax time, we contribute to what matters to all of us—healthy, stable families, businesses and communities that all enjoy the prosperity of a strong economy. Rather than commiserate at tax time, let’s celebrate our collective effort to make North Carolina a better place.
Alexandra Sirota is the Director of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center.