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Getting Real About Taxes

Interesting. Seems that, when educated about the benefits of select tax increases, Michigan residents' support for hikes in sales and state income taxes actually goes up...

“What we heard loud and clear was the public is willing to sacrifice, they're willing to invest, willing to pay the cost,” Mosle said. “However, they demand transparency, accountability and different results.”

I've always been annoyed that taxes get slurred as the "third rail" of political discourse, and I become even more so when so-called progressive politicians choose to dance around straight talk about tax increases. Sure, I get that it's not politically popular: I miss the money the government lifts from my paycheck same as the next man. But I don't think most people are so stupid as to think that they can enjoy the public services we get -- from roads to state environmental protection to public parks -- without having to pay for them.

I do think, though, that many of our politicians are convinced we're that dumb.

As this poll funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation suggests, people in this state can make reasonable assessments about the benefits of taxes when they understand their impact. (And by the same token, they understand the benefits of tax cuts, as the poll shows that respondents' greatest change in attitudes registered when it came to the idea of lowering business taxes.)

He said the 314 participants represent a microcosm of Michigan, and that politicians ought to pay attention to the results.

“This can provide some cover for them to do the right thing” when it comes to cutting government services or raising taxes,” Fishkin said.

But who's going to take that cover, really? In Michigan and elsewhere, attacking tax increases (and, in some cases, tax cuts) is like breathing for many politicians, easy and often a their quickest way into the hearts of voters. Of course, that also means keeping those same voters ignorant to how a fresh approach to progressive taxation might actually improve the quality of their lives and steer more cash back into the state coffers. (Curiously, though, Detroiters often seem a bit more immune to the anti-tax foolishness.)

So what we get is useless rhetoric and dangerous policy, budgets that slash scholarships and social safety nets and that leave roads rotting and schools shortchanged. We get paralysis and grandstanding, claims that a state with fewer and fewer resources should somehow be "cutting more fat" instead of building economic muscle ("fat," of course, being almost always defined as anything that those doing the defining don't need or want).

We get cowardice.

But as the poll suggests, Michiganders wants better. And when talked to, reasoned with and educated, many of us are more than willing to make the sacrifices to get it.

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