I was up late last night, inputting numbers, ticking off boxes, checking receipts, and seriously wishing I had four or five more kids who still fit into a deductible age bracket. It’s tax time, and I suspect you are deep in the same morass of math and mayhem I am.
We all complain about taxes. Be honest. Whether you’re with one major party or the other, you don’t find anything particularly uplifting about writing regular checks to a government entity to do with what they will. But you do it. I do it. Almost all of us do it. And the reason why we do it is simple – we know how lucky we are to live in a country where we have the luxuries we do, the stability we enjoy, and a pervasive feeling of safety that allows us to live worry free much of the time.
So the question isn’t whether or not we should pay. The question for virtually all of us becomes how much should I have to pay in order to stand tall and know I’m making an equitable contribution to the cause? That’s a much tougher question. It’s a question that will never be answered to the universal satisfaction of all concerned, either. We will have to agree to disagree, but we will have to agree to perpetually discuss the topic, too. We have to flex a bit now and then, and that goes for all of us.
April 15th is tax day. It’s when we cumulatively assent to picking up the tab for our massive national lunch order. And just as with a meal in a restaurant, when we get the bill we at least occasionally find ourselves thinking, “Maybe I shouldn’t have ordered the pie.”
The bill is a whopper. So far, it just keeps getting bigger, too. Maybe the United States needs Dave Ramsey in a cabinet level post. I can’t say for sure. But when we get to the point that the federal government of the most magnificent country ever envisioned in the history of mankind needs to start charging pilots for flying their aircraft – we’ve got trouble.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for paying my taxes. I don’t mind that we pay taxes on our fuel. I don’t mind that we pay taxes on our hangars and tie downs. I understand that we have taxes built into the rent on the FBO, and the products they sell. Books, charts, tools, this, and that. We pay taxes on everything. We even pay taxes on the phone service that lets us call up to get our weather briefings and file our flight plans. Heck, even the pilots using the Internet to get those jobs done are paying taxes. We pay to the feds, we pay to the state, we pay to the county, and the city, and whoever else finds a way to get in line with their hand out. And we do it willingly. We’re a compliant bunch, after all.
Now let’s think about this for a minute. If we consider the restaurant analogy for a moment, it doesn’t take long to see the disconnect between the two. When you go to the restaurant you get a menu. Right up front, or at least pretty close to up front, you get to see what your options are and what that order is going to cost you. Admittedly, there is tax and gratuity on top of the meal itself, but the larger point is – you know whether you can afford to eat there or not. Whether you’re in the mood for a fine French wine, or a lemonade made from powered crystals and water, you have no doubt in your mind about your ability to meet your obligation, right from the get go.
That’s not the case when we’re talking about our whopper big shared expenses as a country, though. We don’t know what the bill will be, we just know it will be more than it was last year. And that’s a shame. Because even when you’re dealing with numbers that have a long conga line of zeros at the end, they’re just numbers. Those numbers can be cut down to size easily enough, too. Just lop off an equivalent number of zeros from each integer, and you’re working with manageable numbers in no time.
Getting a handle on how much of a dent a $15 million payment would make on a $600 billion tab may stretch the mathematical abilities of many of our friends and neighbors. But the idea of putting $15 down on a $600,000 credit card bill looks absolutely ridiculous, and entirely clear when you remove six zeros from both the numbers we started with.
I don’t have an answer for this mess, I’m sorry to say. But I have a warning., and it’s taken directly from Dr. Evil, a man who spent a considerable amount of time in evil doctor school. He knows a thing or two. More importantly for our purposes is what he didn’t know. Such as, he didn’t know that when he travelled back in time to 1969 and demanded $100 billion in ransom from the President of the United States (played beautifully by Tim Robbins) he would be laughed at for issuing such a ludicrous ultimatum. As a reference, it’s worth knowing that the total outlay of the United States Government in 1969 was just a tad shy of $190 billion. We also had a surplus that year of slightly more than $3 billion. Today, 43 years later, our budget projections are for a number somewhat higher. And that number is $3.8 trillion. Put another way, what cost us $190 in 1969 now costs us $3,800. The cost of our government has increased by a factor of 20!
Granted, today a car costs 10 times what it did in 1969, and a new home costs five to eight times as much. Gas costs 10 times more, too. But the average income today is only five times what it was when Dr. Evil showed up during the Nixon years. While considered to be high at $353 billion in those days, our national debt has climbed to $15 trillion and continues to escalate at an alarming rate. In other words, our credit card balance has grown from $353 to $15,000.
Financial planners have a term for a trend like this. They call it, “not good.”
User fees are not the cause of our problems, folks. While they’ve been getting a lot of attention they are really just a symptom of a much bigger problem that each and every one of us will have to educate ourselves about, and speak up on. If not, you might find it helpful to learn a few new words in the years to come. Quadrillion, quintillion, and septillion might be useful additions to your vocabulary. And if you’re a teenager who has a burning desire to fly, you’re going to live a long time. You might want to get comfortable talking about nonillions and decillions, too. They’re in your future if we don’t do something different with the community checkbook – soon!
Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.
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