I was driving through the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood when I spotted the sign. It was posted in the manicured front lawn of a brick bungalow on a wooded corner lot. It said: "Stop taxing our property."
At other nice houses up and down the same tree-lined street, other signs dotted other manicured lawns. Many of them bore the same message: "For Sale By Owner." Below that, the signs cited the purported cause of the alleged listings: "excess taxation."
I had the T-word on the brain as I entered a local coffee shop. I dumped my briefcase and overcoat on a chair, bought some steaming liquid, and turned to the newspaper.
There were lots of stories about taxes: Tax hearings. Tax testimony. Tax protests. Tax alternatives. Tax cuts. Tax relief.
And 'ere long, I found myself daydreaming. Or dozing. Or otherwise lost in a caffeinated, subconscious Starbucks haze in which everyone around me was caught up in a taxing conversation.
"We finally got our property tax bills in Swank County," said Hank Homeowner. "Seven months late. It's up another 10 percent from last year. We can't afford it. It's like another mortgage payment."
"Ten percent? That's nothing," said Suzie Secretary. "Ours doubled. I'm having to work retail just to pay for Christmas. The protestors have it right-we shouldn't have to pay property taxes at all. The corporations make all the money. Just look at the millions their CEOs take home. Let them pay."
"Wait a minute," said Brenda Businessowner. "I run one of those corporations. But we're not all big. And I don't make anywhere near the money you see in those newspaper stories. I have 12 people, not 2,000. We're struggling to give them raises. We're struggling to pay rent. We're struggling to pay for health insurance. Heck, if anyone gets a break on taxes, it should be us-not homeowners. We're the ones who put the bread on those homeowners' tables."
"That's right," said Wayne Warehouse. "When they eliminated the inventory tax, our profits soared. And do you know where the money went? Right back into our people's pockets. We have profitsharing. Everyone gets a piece of the action. I say, crank up the sales tax. Then it's based on what you buy, not what you have sitting around."
"Now hold on with that sales-tax talk," said Smokin' Sam, the convenience store operator. "We already got screwed on the tobacco tax. Heck, I can't even get people to drive across the state line for cigarettes anymore. You go crankin' up the sales tax to let some rich homeowner or big-business owner off on property taxes and I'm gonna be layin' people off left and right."
"Rich folks?" said Suzie Secretary. "Rich folks? We're not rich folks. Just because we own a home doesn't mean we're swimming in cash."
"Tell that to the renters," said Smokin' Sam.
"If you ask me, the ones getting off scot-free are the churches, hospitals and not-for-profits," said Brenda Businessowner. "They have all this land and all these assets. And then they get all the government services we get without paying a dime."
"Yes," said Reverend Ray, "we do get those services without cost, and we're most grateful. However, if government, businesses or homeowners had to pay for all the social and human services we deliver-and all the charity care we provide in our hospitals-it would cost many times over the amount of taxes we might owe. Besides, our people pay income taxes just as you do-and we pay a lot of it."
"Yeah, and we'll all pay a lot more if property taxes get whacked," said Ed Earner. "I already got slammed with an income-tax increase to fight crime. And you know what? The crime's not in my neighborhood. Why should I have to pay?"
"Yeah, and my kids have been grown for 20 years. Why should 50 percent of my tax bill go to schools we never used?" said Hank Homeowner.
"They should just cut costs and stop taxing us altogether," said Smokin' Sam.
"Yeah," said Brenda Businessowner.
"Yes," said Reverend Ray.
At that point, I was shaken from my reverie by the roar of a cappuccino machine. I stretched. I rubbed the back of my neck. And I looked around the coffee shop.
Surely, I thought, these people don't believe we can shift the burden entirely away from the tax they like least and dump it on their neighbors through some other means.
Surely, they don't believe government is immune from the inflation affecting every other sector of the economy.
Surely, they don't believe we can have government for the people-but not of the people and by the people?
Nah, that would just be a bad daydream.
Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at email@example.com.