The Groundmothers Roundtable asks, "Are tax breaks breaking us?"

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At first we came here as settlers, perhaps homesteaders, living alone or as a family well apart from others.

As soon as we began to live in larger groups, we needed services that we could not pay for ourselves, such as roads, bridges, schools, safe water, police and fire protection, courts, etc.

Public forum set at WWCC

The Grandmothers Roundtable will hold a forum on March 17 to look at the range of tax exemptions that exist in Walla Walla County, in College Place and in the city of Walla Walla and the effect these exemptions have on revenue collecting by our elected officials.

At the forum, titled, “Are Tax Breaks Breaking Us?” we will look at Who pays taxes? Who does not? Which taxes? Are the benefits we citizens receive from these exemptions greater than the loss of some revenue?

The speakers will be Nabiel Shawa, City Manager of Walla Walla, Pat Reay, city administrator of College Place and Debra Antes, county assessor.

The Forum will be held at Walla Walla Community College in room 185 and will begin at 7 p.m.

Paying for these services as a group enabled us to enlarge the circle of people beyond ourselves and our families whose welfare we cared about. As Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” This is still true today.

Of course we want fairness to be the deciding factor in determining the taxes we are asked to pay.

But what is “fair”?

Is it that we each pay the same amount as everyone else? Is it that those who can afford to pay more do so, while those who have little pay less, or nothing? Should I pay according to my individual use of a particular service? (If I don’t have children, I don’t pay for schools; if I don’t read, I don’t pay for the library; if I don’t drive, I don’t pay for streets and roads, etc.)

Before we decide how to pay for the services our city and county provide, we need to decide what services we want from our governments and which are the most important. In some cases. the federal and state governments make these decisions for us and may or may not provide the funds to pay for them. In other cases, the decisions are made locally by county commissioners or our city council members. Often, we citizens can vote on the services we are willing to help pay for.

When the decisions are made as to what services our governments will provide, then these governments must have the revenue to cover the costs of doing so. Taxes, of course, are the main source of revenues for our governments, but there are other sources as well.

Taxes of course are at least partly political in nature. Thus over the years citizens have put pressure on legislators at local, State, and Federal levels, to pass laws allowing some people exemptions from having to pay certain taxes or user fees.

Taxes, of course, are the main sources of revenue for our local governments, but there are sources beyond property and sales taxes. These include state and federal grants, fees, levies and bonds.

This revenue enables the governments of Walla Walla County and the cities of Walla Walla and College Place to carry out their missions of serving us, including enhancing our quality of life, attracting new businesses, helping current businesses, protecting us and our property, planning for orderly growth, and educating ourselves and our children

What are the results of these exemptions? Here’s a made-up example: If the cost of building and maintaining roads in Walla Walla county is $5 million per year, and if some of us don’t have to pay property taxes on our houses or building, then others must pay more to raise the $5 million. This is called tax shifting shifting the need for tax money to someone else so that I don’t need to pay it.

Tax exemptions may be granted by Congress or by our state legislators or by county commissioners or city council members. Added together, are the exemptions large enough to significantly affect revenue gathering by our elected officials?

Nancy Ball is a member of the local Grandmothers Roundable. Her email is ncb1927@yahoo.com.

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