Opinion

Your taxes enable quality of life

 

Looking at the weather map, how can you not be grateful we live in the Northwest? The rest of the country is sweltering and steaming in heat and humidity with no end in sight — meanwhile, we keep the comforter on the bed, the window cracked for fresh air and enjoy mostly sunny days that aren’t too hot!

I recently polled my colleagues on how they spent last weekend. One went on a bike ride from Capitol Hill to Discovery Park, hiked around the park and then settled in for a couple hours at the beach. 

Another took the ferry out to the Olympic Peninsula, watched the lightning, lit a campfire and swam in Mason Lake. (Maybe not such a good idea with lightning in the distance!) The next day he hiked from Paradise to Camp Muir on Mount Rainier. On the return to Paradise, he found it mobbed with people hiking and enjoying the trails. 

I took a round-Lake Washington bicycle tour, stopping at the Gene Coulon Park in Renton for a break and a milkshake. Others went farther: 10,000 bicyclists cycled over 200 miles during annual Seattle to Portland bicycle ride. 

Having ridden the STP several times, this year another colleague drove a sag wagon — meaning she set up camp for Saturday night and was ready to pick up bicyclists who dropped out. Fortunately no one in her party did — and she was happily dismayed to see her friends, as she said, smoke her best times. Now she’s planning and training for next year!

Another person I know built a little deck area and some stone steps in his backyard. He thought it might take a couple of workdays … it ended up taking four. But as he said, “Who am I to complain? I have the resources to get it done — including vacation from work, extra money for supplies and a day care that’s close by. Lots of people are struggling to meet much more basic needs — I’m one of the lucky ones. And now we have a beautiful backyard to enjoy with family and friends for years to come.”

Hearing these great stories makes me realize how lucky we are to live here — it’s like winning the lottery. But in this case, we buy a winning ticket by paying taxes.

All of the things we treasure in the summer — parks, ferries, bicycle rides, lakes, outdoor barbecues, backyard projects — we couldn’t depend on any of them if we didn’t buy our lottery tickets — that is, pay our taxes. 

 

Mount Rainier is a national park, thanks to our federal government and our taxes. Mason Lake is swimmable thanks to clean water regulations, courtesy of our state Department of Ecology and the EPA. 

Roads to bicycle on to Portland — only possible with state transportation taxes and federal subsidies, courtesy of all of us taxpayers. The newly renovated bike corridor for the Burke Gilman Trail in Kenmore is a safer and much more pleasant passage for both bicyclists and automobiles — and only possible with funding from King County’s voter-approved Proposition 2 Parks Expansion Levy and Real Estate Excise Tax funds. 

Even me drinking a milkshake at Kidd Valley in Renton — I didn’t even think twice about its preparation and food safety. We all are protected by inspections and standards, in this case through the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health. And we pay for that with our taxes. 

Of course, when you buy a $1 lottery ticket, the odds of winning just $3 are only 1 in 28. The odds of hitting the jackpot are 1 in 7 million. 

By that measure, taxes are a much better deal. You automatically get national, state and city parks. You can count on safe food at restaurants. You have clean water to drink and clean lakes to swim in. You have roads for driving and bicycle paths for bicycling. 

You have the police and fire departments to rescue you in a car accident or bike accident. You have the National Park Service to find you if you get lost on the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier. 

You couldn’t buy all those things yourself, but as taxpayers, we can finance them together. 

So enjoy the summer and appreciate the good weather — and as you look around, remember it’s not just you and the weather and the natural wonders of our state … it’s our government and your taxes that enable the quality of life of our great Northwest.

Happy summer days!

John Burbank is the executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute (www.eoionline.org). He can be reached via e-mail at john@eoionline.org. 

Community Events, April 2014

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