Death or taxes
“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
This old adage is often credited to Benjamin Franklin, and points to an existential fear among many North Americans towards taxes as a source of nothing but pain, suffering, and problems. Taxes have been labelled as job-killing, money-grubbing, and the ultimate pain-in-the-ass. Suggesting raising taxes can be political suicide, and even suggesting a revamping of the tax system as the Federal Liberal Party did in 2008 with their “Green Shift” platform can lead to anger, confusion, and rejection.
But this rhetoric surrounding taxes ignores that taxes are an essential part of contemporary society. This isn’t the Wild West where vigilantes take care of law, people expect to die of tuberculosis before age 40, and there’s one rail line for transportation. Taxes could be low in such a world. This is an advanced society that comes with roads, rails, planes, hospitals, police stations, schools, universities, and a wide variety of other modern comforts we take for granted.
Take universities as an example. The Saskatchewan government has been very clear that they are preparing to axe university funding in order to force the institutions to “find efficiencies.” This has essentially meant, at least at the University of Regina, that sessional instructors in high-demand degrees such as English and other humanities are going to be laid off or not hired. The funding shortfall is even more acute at the University of Saskatchewan.
Then consider that the NDP cut the provincial sales tax to 5 per cent back in 2006 in a blatant attempt to buy votes before the 2007 election. This tax cut was a short-sighted policy which lost an approximate $325 million in revenue for the province and still failed to influence the election. This loss has not been replaced by other stable revenue, instead being made up since then by the variable royalties that come in from potash and oil revenues.
Knowing that the provincial economy is larger than in 2006 when the PST was cut, a temporary increase of the PST by a half per cent or one per cent would easily cover the combined deficit of the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina, which stands at around $50 million.
A government truly dedicated to the health and well-being of these necessary institutions of higher learning would not hesitate to take such action to properly fund them. While it might be temporarily unpopular, for most people such an increase would be barely noticeable and would raise the funds necessary to provide stable post-secondary education funding.
This is not the only solution, obviously, for an increase of royalty rates could produce similar revenue, or an increase in corporate taxes, or a cutting of the huge subsidies paid out to the oil and gas industry. But it is a potential solution that does not mutilate two very important institutions in our province and breaks out of the notion that funding cuts are inevitable and so should be managed instead of opposed.
Taxes are not inherently a problem. They can act as a solution, and as such should not be treated with the overwhelming and vitriolic disdain they have been in the past by most of North American society.
If we eliminate taxes from Franklin’s statement, the only certainty left in life will be death. Even if taxes are sometimes a pain, at least I know as long as I am paying them, I am still alive. And so might be my university.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.org