Saturday, October 20, 2007

Move Election Day to April 16th

This was found at The New Editor (Tom Elia) and it's an interesting read.

(Versions of this column originally appeared in both the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Austin American Statesman.)

April 15th is upon us once again, a day, like indigestion, that never fails to elicit a number of responses. While some growl, others medicate, saying that freedom has its price or that taxes pay for civilized society. (Most indubitably -- care for some tea?)

A majority of people are willing to pay taxes for freedom or civilized society and would do so happily if they thought they were getting a fair shake. But a lot of people don't feel that they're getting a good deal.

In fact, they feel ripped off. But what can they do about it? In theory, they can wait until the first Tuesday in November every two, four or six years to change officeholders. But doesn't such a wait dissipate their desire for change? Why do they have to wait so long, and who benefits from such a wait? (I'll give you a hint -- it's not the voting taxpayer.)

Let's start benefiting the voting taxpayer and move election day to April 16th.

Normally, we don't patronize a business again if we feel ripped off. That's not an option here -- unless hanging out with the IRS is your idea of a good time. But we can vote for change, which is kind of like not patronizing a business again.

In theory, before entering the voting booth, we can try and learn about the issues and where our money goes. However, in reality the federal budget is extremely complex and most people's eyes glaze over when even its subject is brought up, effectively killing any inquiry.

Wanna feel like the walking plague? Try asking someone to read it at the next party that you go to. How does a particular program relate to what you paid in taxes? What is an average taxpayer's portion of an obvious boondoggle? Why do you think that the budget is so difficult to wade through and who benefits from such complexity? Surely not taxpaying voters. (Hey, where'd everybody go and why am I drinking alone?)

Did you know that the average federal government salary plus benefits exceeds $50,000 a year? You probably haven't had the time to read pages 205-209 of the Analytical Perspectives volume of the federal budget for fiscal year 1998 where this juicy morsel appears (after many calculations).

I'll bet that's probably because you haven't yet finished reading the 68,000 plus pages of the Federal Register. Oh, it's good stuff. Runs the vast panoply of the human experience, it does. But none of this stuff provides the drama of the 10 million words that make up the Federal Tax Code. I know, I know, you've been meaning to get to that, too. Or maybe it's gotten to you first. Perhaps not. Then again, maybe torture is your bag.

Suppose that you comparison shop and find a better price at Company A, do you necessarily care that Company B isn't as efficient and therefore charges a higher price? Do you immerse yourself in the details of Company B to see why there's such a difference? Are ya nuts?

No, you buy from Company A and let the executives of Company B figure out the details. If the executives at Company B want to keep their jobs, they react. That's their job.

But what can you compare our government to? Please, keep it clean: Did you pay more to the government in taxes or to the bank on your mortgage or to your landlord for rent this year? Do you think of your home as a major purchase? How about your tax bill? Is "major" an adequate adjective? (Quit looking at me that way, ex-gentle reader, it makes me nervous.)

Even if some of the sometimes arcane budget material does manage to resonate with voters and they actually understand it (just like they understood "Medicare cuts"), there is a further problem that is unique to the process of government. We pay our taxes in April and vote in November. Where else do you pay for something and wait for almost seven months to choose the product? And that's in an election year. Would you pay for your house and then wait seven months to choose its style? Would you take a blind date to the most expensive restaurant in town without a fallback plan? Whaddaya, nuts?

Let's simplify the process and move election day to April 16th. Shouldn't the timing of tax payments and our selection of office holders be tied more closely together?

Wouldn't this help to focus taxpaying voters' attention? Wouldn't elected officials respond better to the wishes of taxpaying voters if elections were held right near tax time?

Those voters who feel that the federal government is doing a good job could vote accordingly. Who could object to moving election day to April 16th? I wonder. Are they nuts? Or are the rest of us -- for voting in November?

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