I feel incompetent and fearful every year when April approaches, because the deadline for filing my income tax return is here. As a citizen of the United States of America, I have to report how much I earned in the previous year, and pay taxes that support the U.S. federal, state, and sometimes city governments. You would think that, for someone like me, who got all As in my mathematics classes through high school and college, I would be able to figure out how to fill out the income tax forms. Twenty years ago, I attempted to do my own tax return and gave up. So I hired a tax preparer to file my income tax, and I have been using him ever since.
Just what am I afraid of? The tax dollars I contribute each year are supposed to go to fixing the roads that I travel on each day, supporting the schools that educate our children, helping those who are in need in our community, keeping us safe and secure through the law enforcement agencies, providing healthcare for seniors through Medicare, and many others things. But each year, the forms seem to get more and more complicated. To compound things further, I heard on the radio that if you input the exact same numbers in different computer tax-preparation programs, you can end up with different results. Well, how do I know I have gotten it right? Is my tax-preparer using the right program?
I think these complicated forms are there to evoke fear. File on time, make sure your numbers do not look suspicious and hope to God that you will not get audited. Instead of feeling good about having paid my taxes, thereby supporting my government to keep us safe and secure, I paid my taxes and still felt afraid—not just about not being protected, but fearful of my own government, which would punish me if I did not do my taxes correctly.
Filing my income tax return is an annual reminder that my government does not trust me to do the right thing, so the Internal Revenue Service will randomly pick people to be audited. It also reminds me that I cannot trust my government to use my tax dollars properly. People of my generation are talking pessimistically about the future of Social Security and Medicare. Don’t count on getting your share when you retire. Therefore, I and everyone I know want to pay as little tax as possible without breaking the tax code. Filing my income each year reminds me of the abusive cycle of distrust and fear between me and my government. I do it out of fear instead of love for this country and my trust for our civic leaders. I lose sight of the meaning of paying taxes. I lose connection with my government.
A sustainist thinks about tax-paying as potentially part of the flow of resources – a portion of the money I make go to the city, state and federal governments, which then redistribute the money to support the needs of the nation, states and local communities. Instead of being afraid of the process, we should embrace it but with a critical eye on where the tax money goes. Sustainists ask what percentage of our tax dollar recirculates back to support our local communities. Sustainists would research and find accurate information so that we can challenge our government to take responsibilities with the money that we contribute to the common good.
Invite members of your community to gather and dialogue on the issue of paying taxes:
Reflection Questions for 3rd Sunday of Easter (Year B)
1 John 3:1-7
Eric H. F. Law
For competent leadership in a diverse changing world
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