WORSE THAN PAYING THOSE TAXES? COMPREHENDING THEM

Burlington County Times, April 15, 2002

Daylight Savings Time has started. All the spring bulbs – the tulips and daffodils and hyacinths – are in full bloom, as are the forsythia and Bradford pear trees. The buds on my lilac bush, which I never prune and is now about 8′ tall, are about to burst into fragrant clusters. I have to keep reminding myself that our frost-free date is in mid-May, and I really shouldn’t plant any tomatoes yet. The leaves and debris of last Fall are composting down into dark, rich humus. The birds are checking out nesting sites. Two Great-horned Owlets in a park in Haddonfield are about to fledge. My resident woodchucks have cleaned out the tunnel to their burrow and are lining it with dead leaves. All of this can mean only one thing.

It’s tax time.

Generally, I don’t give much thought to taxes. In an example of uncharacteristically sex-stereotyped roles, my husband handles the taxes, while I take care of the laundry. Once a year, I go through my check book and list charitable donations and professional membership fees. Then I sign whatever papers Quicken and our accountant have generated. I’m a very trusting soul. I’m also a very confused one.

There’s a definite reason I never went to law school, and an even more definite one why I never studied tax laws. I just don’t understand them.

But this Spring, thanks to our new governor’s inheritance of a major budget deficit, taxes are on everyone’s minds.

I have no problem with his wanting to raise cigarette taxes. I’m anti-tobacco and don’t allow smoking in my house. We don’t even own an ashtray. And don’t tell me to mind my own business – second-hand smoke is unpleasant, dirty, and dangerous. I hate driving, with my windows closed, and smelling someone’s cigarette smoke as it wafts out of an open car window and enters through my car’s air vent. One cigar on a beach, if the wind’s blowing the right – or, rather, wrong – way can ruin an otherwise beautiful day.

And I’m not even all that opposed to raising the gasoline tax. I compare our gas prices with those in Philadelphia every day, and we get off easy.

I make sure that I always have enough gas to get back to New Jersey before filling up, but not just because of our lower prices. It’s also because we’re one of only two states (Oregon is the other one) that bans self-service gas stations.

As part of the gas increase proposal, it’s been suggested that the ban be rescinded. I disagree with doing away with that ban. The few times that I’ve crossed the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge into Philadelphia and suddenly realized that my tank was dangerously low, I’ve had to pump gas myself. When I was in school in the 50s and 60s, girls didn’t take shop or car repair courses; we weren’t even allowed to. So I don’t have a lot of experience with cars, other than calling AAA.

Every time I have to pump gas myself, I invariably drip all over suede shoes. Or open-toed sandals. Or, worse, open-toed suede sandals. And my hair and hands smell like gasoline the rest of the day. I’m willing to pay more; I’m not willing to pay more so I can feel empowered by filling my own gas tank.

And then there’s the proposal – probably a moot point by now – to rescind the agreement between PA and NJ about state income taxes. I won’t try to describe the current compact or the proposal, mostly because I don’t understand it. I’ve tried to figure it out, but the more I read, the more confused I become.

But there are two things that have struck me. One is that many people in the U.S. pay income taxes to the state in which they work, not the one in which they live. But we vote where we live. I’m sure that the issue has been resolved to the satisfaction of whomever it is that needs to be satisfied about the fairness of tax laws (Can “fairness” and “tax” be used in the same sentence?), but the only thing I can think of is “taxation without representation.”

The other point didn’t surprise me at all. According to printed reports, the people who met with Governor McGreevey to discuss how to raise taxes revenues without raising taxes didn’t even think about South Jersey when they proposed breaking the 24-year agreement. They were thinking about the extra income they would earn from Pennsylvania residents who work in New Jersey. They were genuinely surprised at South Jersey’s opposition to the proposal. Once again, South Jersey is the meek nerd who’s so lowly that the in-crowd doesn’t even notice us.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go clean gasoline from my shoes while washing cigarette fumes from my hair and looking for tea to throw into the Delaware River.

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