Taxes and Subscriptions: The Same Result
Those who insist (inaccurately) that so-called “pay-for-spray” and an “on your own” theory of governance were epitomized by firefighters in rural Obion Couty, Tennessee refusing to put out a fire – and indeed watching it burn – because the homeowner had declined to pay a subscription fee for fire service from a nearby municipality have implied that “pay-for-spray” means that “ability to pay” is the determining factor for whether a homeowner receives fire coverage.
In this particular case, they have argued, the problem would have been alleviated had the County imposed a 0.13 percent property tax. The difference between “pay-for-spray” and a 0.13 percent property tax, they have asserted is the difference between a vision that “primarily serves the well off and privileged sectors of the country” and a vision that “believes in an American Dream that works for all people, regardless of their racial, religious, or economic background.”
Why don’t we put this to the test? Let us assume that the homeowners in this incident simply couldn’t afford the $75.00 subscription fee. Let us also assume that the home had a value of about $60,000, placing it in the bottom quartile of homes in Obion County. Finally, let us assume that the supposedly more equitable solution of a 0.13 percent property tax advocated by the likes of Think Progress and Keith Olbermann were implemented.
What then is the result? The homeowners now have to pay an additional $75.00 in taxes rather than paying a $75.00 subscription fee for fire coverage. The amount this homeowner, who we again assume to be indigent, has to pay is still $75.00 more than he can afford.
Ahh, you say, but if you don’t pay your taxes, you still at least get the fire coverage.
True enough, but this rather misses something important, as Kevin Carson explains n a comment at Unqualified Offerings:
But we should keep in mind what the real alternative is. The real alternative that Olberman & Co. advocate in place of letting your house burn down for nonpayment of fees is… to put your house up on the auction block for nonpayment of taxes.
Gosh, you mean paying taxes isn’t all rainbows and gummi bears?
So, under either solution, the indigent unable to afford $75.00 still loses their house.
There are, of course, still two differences between the solutions: under “pay-for-spray,” you lose not only your house, but everything and everyone inside it, while under an auction, you just lose your house; on the other hand, under “pay-for-spray,” you lose your house only if you’re unlucky enough to be the victim of a fire, while under an auction you lose your house because you can’t afford the tax, whether or not you’re unlucky enough to be the victim of a fire.
That’s not to say that a tax isn’t the best way of handling fire service in Obion County, Tennessee (I’m not qualified to answer that), or that there aren’t better alternatives than both “pay-for-spray” and taxation (there are certainly alternatives that the County can consider that aren’t being discussed on the national level). It’s just to say that the notion that the difference between “pay-for-spray” and service taxes is inherently one of serving only the privileged versus government “working for all the people regardless of . . . economic background” is laughable. Both solutions privilege exactly the same set of people at the expense of exactly the same set of people, just in different ways.