“Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” – Oliver Wendell Homes

There is a great deal of discussion in this and other papers about our tax burden. While I can understand greatly the concerns expressed, I also think that we must take a broader view of just what those taxes are; what they do; what the effects, impacts and opportunities we create in their reduction and growth; how this is managed, and how we will be able to establish the groundwork to minimize the reliance on a particular tax base.

We should keep in mind that for every moment we are alive we are under the effects of a broad umbrella of common social investment. In other words … our taxes. This common investment is at the core of what makes us a civilized society. While we may not seem to directly benefit from every aspect of what our government does or supports we do benefit from, and hopefully take pride in, the collective society it creates and sustains.

Our public investment in each other is our way of supporting a collective and organized means for our citizenry to ensure the common well being of ourselves and those in need. As much as many of us may think we can do without government we must keep in mind all of the things that (in this case local) government and our social investment does.

Our public investment in each other maintains and secures a clean environment. It allows us to safely travel on roads and maintain a healthy and clean community. It keeps us safe in case of emergencies like a health crisis or a fire. Our common investment in each other allows us the safety and protection afforded by the police. It offers equity of opportunity through a common access to a quality public education in all its manifestations and continues to allow for each of us the ability for continued growth through public libraries and various cultural and educational programs.

Our common public investment allows us to find means to be active and physically engaged through things like hiking trails, sports and recreation programs. This investment ensures the individual and collective safety of our built environment through laws, planning, assistance and quality enforcement. It assists in the economic growth of our communities that ultimately allow for the creation of jobs, access to goods and services and new sources of public revenue.

It strengthens the health and social fabric of our communities through affordable and accessible places and programs that bring people together like parks, community centers and festivals. Our common mutual support allows us to have a safety net for those in need and thus maintain some base ability for all of us to survive and be healthy. It allows us to support and take initiatives that can maintain an awareness and appreciation of our common histories and culture through museums, historic sites and access to the arts. The common investment of our taxes allow us an organizational and governance structure that makes all of this and more possible. When we pay into this common trust we are investing in each other and ourselves.

It is important to realize that this investment is a public trust. Efficiencies should always be sought and we should be ever-vigilant to avoid misuse. How we manage this common investment and what we demand of it is every citizen’s responsibility. It is exercised by speaking out, organizing and voting. It is about an awareness of, participation in, and the public demand for a role within how decisions are made. It is the responsibility of our government in turn to invite such participation and allow it to happen easily and as unencumbered as possible.

In closing I would like to make a correction to an earlier column. When discussing the need for a Windham Town Park I stated that in a recent study by Cape Elizabeth that Windham spends $31.46 per capita on Windham Parks and Recreation programs when the average of nearby and comparable communities for the same sort of programs is $81.96. I was wrong. Windham spends only $13.69 per capita. While I applaud the efficiencies inherent in this I also see it as tragically shortsighted. We can do much better!

Michael Shaughnessy lives in Windham.


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