Reinventing the Wheel Tax
No Laughing Matter
I believe that the black and white view of the debate—pro/anti wheel tax—is misguided. The fact remains that Knox County residents already pay 9.25 percent in sales tax, one of the highest in the nation. Even worse, food is taxed. This tax places an undue burden on less-fortunate families, who spend a much greater percentage of their income on consumable goods.
In Knox County, 38.4 percent of single mothers with children live below the poverty threshold, which the U.S. Census Bureau defines as a scant $15,219 for a family of three (one adult and two children). The wheel tax, at a flat $36, only exacerbates their situations. $36 would buy four cans of infant formula, enough to feed a baby for two weeks.
Repealing the wheel tax entirely is not the best solution to the problem, though. Knox County needs money to operate essential services, e.g. schools. For higher-income individuals, a tax of $36 hardly touches their wallets. Cumulatively, though, the tax generates some serious money. In 2005, 399,858 motor vehicles were registered in Knox County. Simple math says the County netted $14,394,888 in wheel taxes.
Why not enact a graduated wheel tax rate and exempt the lowest-income people? Such reform would distribute the tax burden more proportionately and sustain the revenue stream.
I encourage the County Commission and its candidates to consider this reform. After all, we don’t have a choice about taxation. It’s not going away. However, we do have a choice about how we enact tax policy. We can be unfair. Or we can be fair. I suggest the latter.
No Laughing Matter
More seriously, I have had the unpleasant experience of watching several such devastating episodes unfold for families. The feelings surrounding such events never take the form of “Get over it. Life is risky. Accidents happen.” Instead, what one often hears are heartbreaking sentences beginning, “If I could only….”or “Why didn’t I….”—laments that pierce not only the soul but the reason.
Mr. Guerin asks: “How did we survive before all these intrusive laws came into our lives?” Quite simply, millions of people did not, and millions more suffered crippling injuries. Before the federal government forced automakers to build safer cars, which included seatbelts, safety glass, and appropriate braking systems, under pressure from Ralph Nader, even low-speed accidents typically resulted in horrific injuries as vehicle passengers slammed into the dash and through the shattered, razor sharp remains of the windshield. Today seat belt laws save the lives of thousands of vehicle passengers yearly, not to mention the much larger number of individuals saved from crippling injuries and the literally billions in health care costs we avoid annually through the use of seat belts.
In sum, human beings do not always act upon the best available information in order to make commensurately rational decisions, as Mr. Guerin so eloquently demonstrates. Until we reach a point where rationality is the order of the day, our government must legally mandate behavior that will promote at least minimum levels of safe behavior among individuals, especially those who are incapable of protecting themselves—such as children who find themselves in Mr. Guerin’s car.
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