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Tax increases should be a last resort

Richard Eckstrom S.C. Comptroller

“Tax increase.” Two words most Americans dread.

As I sit here on a Friday night writing this community newspaper column, the local TV news is on in the background, and I can hear a report about a proposed tax increase in one South Carolina town. Not surprisingly, many town residents are opposed to the tax increase, according to the news account. They feel that taxes are already too high, and that government officials tend to endorse spending plans with little consideration for the taxpayers, who continue to fork over more and more of their hard-earned money to their government.

Taxes, of course, are necessary. High taxes, however, are not. Our Founding Fathers believed that government should only do things that individuals cannot… that government should provide essential services such as education, law enforcement and national defense, but refrain from trying to do so much that heavy taxes become a burden on citizens.

The founders envisioned a government that “governs least,” as Thomas Jefferson put it, so that the cost of government doesn’t become a hindrance to taxpayers, consumers and investors.

Unfortunately, government officials all too often see tax dollars as the cure for every ailment, and they view government spending as the main measure of their public service. They want to “bring home the bacon,” but, of course, the taxpayers are the ones who pick up the tab for the bacon. Too often, they seem to forget whose money it is they are spending.

It’s also worth noting that many in government hold a cavalier attitude toward those who advocate lower taxes and oppose tax increases. When a community debates a proposed tax increase, it’s not uncommon to hear platitudes about how tax-increase opponents don’t want to improve their community or “don’t care about the kids.” I’ve always thought this was silly. To my mind, it certainly stands to reason that one way to boost a community’s quality of life is to protect citizens’ pocketbooks. When government allows citizens to hold on to their own, hard-earned money, those citizens have more money available to purchase goods and services, save, start new businesses and create jobs.

The ability to tax citizens is not one to be taken lightly. Tax increases should be levied only as a last resort, after all other options have been considered, and only to meet the most essential government needs. You work hard for your money. One of the most important things government can do is let you keep the money you earn.

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