Your Tax Dollars at Work

San Francisco — Seattle

Léelo en español

This winter I had the opportunity to drive several hours throughout northern California. Actually, I ended up passing through three states of the West Coast. California is one of those states that has federal taxes, one of the highest in fact, close by New York’s and Connecticut’s, which are indeed the highest. In the United States there are federal and state taxes. However, there are states that just don’t have them. Those ones, without state taxation are: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Washington, Wyoming and Texas.

On this journey I drove several hours through feeder roads, so I spend most of the time beside the forest and the seaside, trying to avoid highways with infinite lanes, which are so typical in this part of the world. That is why it was normal that I encountered sections of the road where maintenance works were being carried out. They were signalized hundreds of meters before, and near those signs there were also another ones that, at first, didn’t catch my attention. They seemed to be those common signs that are generally seen near road signs indicating its duration, the contractors, speed limit or workers in road… and they surely were. However, in one occasion I could read how it clearly indicated “Your Tax Dollars at Work”.

the references to what that effort, made by all the contributors, represents and the notion of “here are your taxes”, “this is on what we have spent it on” were constant.

Although it seems to be common sense, the fact that it was said in that explicit way really surprised and pleased me. It was a remainder of something that we all know. However, being aware that I was driving around thanks to an infrastructure that we all have been paying, and that those maintenance works in particular were been carried out thanks to the contributions of all of us, was something that even though I had experienced it before in this country, I was still not really used to it, how explicit, simple, and natural this concept was assimilated and published by and for all the american taxpayers.

Something similar happened to me when I visited the “Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, striking facilities that were designed for visitors to enjoy the history of the conquest of outer space, what here is known as the “Space Coast” in northern Florida. In addition, it is located inside the NASA facilities at Cape Canaveral. It is surely worth a visit if you have time. There, many private companies such as Origin, Boing and SpaceX are renting the space shuttles, that were used by the Shuttle and Apollo projects, to develop their own private projects in space.

During my visit there, the references to what that effort, made by all the contributors, represents and the notion of “here are your taxes”, “this is on what we have spent it on” were constant.

In general, my perception is that the awareness that american taxpayers have of the destination of their money is much more explicit than what I have seen in other places, where the public money really seems that has come out of the blue and has been distributed by arbitrary criteria. The notion of “what are you going to spend my taxes on” (or “what am I going to spend your taxes on”, depending on the actor) is a recurrent topic in the daily speeches (press, television and coffee shops). Public employees are very very aware of who is their client in every moment.

For an european citizen, to see elderly people serving meals or carrying supermarket bags to the clients’ vehicles is very complicated to understand. The same happens when you try to comprehend why the richest country in the world doesn’t have a minimally supportive public health system. However, occasionally, even though it still is difficult to assimilate, we could get to understand how there are good people, who we would consider to have “common sense”, that defend and argue for this type of policies from a pragmatic point of view.

The perception they have of the government as an administrator of the resources that we all contribute to and from which they demand transparency and effectiveness in their management is more explicit here, in USA

This is an election year. Yesterday I saw the first electoral sign in the garden of one house of the neighbourhood. It said “2020 Mike Bloomberg”. Soon the streets will be full of little signs like that one, in every garden and facade. Soon many will proclaim their voting intentions and the candidate that they favour. That’s another local custom that surprise us,spaniards at least. But that’s the topic of another post I will write in November.

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