Government’s taxing mindset, and keeping the public informed

I was reading something this week that had me thinking about government taxing and spending, how some people don’t fully understand why we have taxes and what’s the smart way to spend them.

I read an editorial in The Denver Post that seemed to like the idea of a state tax on Internet purchases, since it would bring in so much money to state coffers.

Interesting idea. You know what else would bring in some money? A tax on the Denver Post. After all, you could make the case that in publishing their newspaper the Post managers contribute to a lot old papers blowing around. And what about their carbon footprint, with those big old presses cranking around using dirty ink and all that power? This is to say nothing about all the vehicles they probably use to deliver the paper and resources used to build metal boxes for street sales.

Actually, this is silly. Newspapers are no more deserving of increased taxes than anything else. Also, since their property, like most commercial property in Colorado, is subject to a legally mandated higher property tax assessment, they pay more than some of their brethren in other states just to have a place for those presses.

The vehicles used to deliver the newspaper are taxed when they’re purchased through ownership and sales taxes, as well as yearly license plates. It would be unjust to tax them just because they do something you don’t like or because they seem like a good target for taxation.

The same holds true for Internet sales. If the company doesn’t have a physical presence in the state and doesn’t make use of the state’s services, where is the justification for the tax? To the extent those services involve the delivery of goods, then companies that deliver them already pay taxes on their vehicles, to say nothing about income taxes on the employees.

It’s a symptom of bad management when, in order to keep government afloat, legislators start casting around for ways to collect money on services they don’t provide. The opposite side of the spectrum in government is when you spend money foolishly on things you don’t have to, or occasionally claim to save money on things you shouldn’t.

This brings me to the recent controversy about the Mesa County Public Trustee’s decision to post foreclosure notices in small newspapers over putting them in The Daily Sentinel, which has an exponentially larger circulation. This doesn’t have anything to say about the quality of those other newspapers. It just serves as an example of how government and business sometimes get confused about when it’s justified to collect money or spend money in different ways.

The point of notices is to get noticed. In terms of public notices about government operations, the public needs to be able find these things easily and conveniently. When your governmental operation is also trying to get something sold, it’s in your best interest to get information out to as many possible buyers as you can, not just meet some legal definition. This serves the interest of the creditors, who want to have as many potential bidders as possible, and borrowers, who would like to get as many people interested and pay as much as possible to leave them less in arrears.

To say that someone knows where to find an item is not the same as advertising it. Businesses pay a lot of money to get casual observers to notice something and decide it might be a good buy. In a community that has a government willing to spend money advertising the availability of social services, it’s silly to do something that impairs the mission and the people it serves.

Here’s a test: If you were trying to find your dog, lost in Mesa County, in which publication would you put your ad so that more people would see it and increase the chances of someone finding your dog?

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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