Friday, May 23, 2008

Battle of the Taxes

One of the enduring myths about Florida is that we are a low-tax state. We aren't. Government services here -- from public schools to fire protection to highway construction and maintenance -- cost just as much as anywhere else, if not more.

The two differences are (1) Floridians whine about taxes a lot more than most others; and (2) Local politicians have responded by dipping into the Thesaurus of Arcane Government Synonyms a little too often.

We don't have a state income tax. We have sales taxes, special assessments, service fees, local options, user fees, excise taxes, tolls, license fees, processing fees, etc. etc. etc. We even have "shipping and handling" fees, just like Ebay. (It's true! Try requesting a copy of a state document under the Sunshine Act.)

Now, we're about to see an explosion in another kind of tax substitute -- the Fire, Law Enforcement, and Emergency Medical fee. (We suggest "FLEM" for short.)

According to the Ft. Walton Daily News, the 'redneck' town of Milton leads the way in the Panhandle. Gulf Breeze will be following soon. Can Pensacola Beach be far behind?
According to the fees established in Milton, the police fee would be $235 per accident, while the fire/rescue fee would be set at $300 per accident. When this is billed, each separate bill would include a $50 service charge. An accident involving the police and fire response would total $635.
In case of billing disputes, a "special master" will be hired to hear the appeals. He'll be hired by the Government, of course -- so long as the Government likes his rulings.

Detainees at Guantanamo probably would get a fairer hearing.

As Rick Outzen pointed out when Pensacola was considering a similar measure a few months ago, "Flat fees for essential government services punish the elderly and the poor. There are no homestead exemptions for fees. Fees aren’t tax deductible like property taxes."

An additional advantage of this new Thesaurus tax is that the pols who run things can pretend it isn't a tax. Consequently, "they don’t have to send our TRIM notices when they raise the fees in years to come." Anti-tax obsessives can't even vote against it.

This cheeseparing of public services is all part of the ongoing atomization of the American community. As Bill Moyers has suggested, over the past thirty years --
a disciplined, well-funded and closely-coordinated coalition of corporate elites, power-hungry religious conservatives, and hard-line right-wing operatives has mounted an aggressive drive to dismantle the public foundations and philosophy of shared prosperity and fairness in America.
* * *
The public institutions, the laws and regulations, the ideas, norms, and beliefs which aimed to protect the common good and helped to create America's iconic middle class, are now gone, greatly weakened, or increasingly vulnerable to attack. The Nobel Laureate economist Robert Solow sums it up succinctly: What it's all about, he says, "is the redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy and of power in favor of the powerful."

So, be forewarned: If you plan to have a heart attack or want to get into a fender-bender, be sure to gather the evidence, first, that the "fault" isn't yours. It was the other guy's.

These days, even when it comes to ambulance services it's every man for himself.


Bryan said...

This is beyond absurd.

pATRICK said...

I'm guessing we'll soon see a specific exclusion in our auto insurance policies (if it isn't there already), excluding coverage for such "non tax" fees. Wonderful.