04.19.10 Life Is Burdensome in the People’s Republic

I recently posted to neighborhood listservs notice of a fundraiser my wife and I will be holding for our neighbor and true good-guy politician, Marc Elrich (who is running for reelection to the Montgomery County Council).  Two neighbors responded to my post by decrying rent control, which Elrich supports and which Takoma Park (affectionately known as “the People’s Republic of…”) is the only municipality in Maryland to have.

Today, I forwarded to those listservs a call I had received for volunteers to help make make Takoma Park’s Old Town “sparkle” on an upcoming Saturday.  One of those same two neighbors responded this way:

Don’t my huge property taxes pay for that?

Here is what I posted back to the listserv:

Hmmm.  One senses a very heavy ax to grind here.  Otherwise, why would someone respond to a call for civic pride and voluntarism with a not-very-relevant rant about property taxes?  Indeed, I would expect the parsimonious taxpayer to breathe a sigh of relief upon hearing that her fellow residents will pitch in and help offset the need for more taxes to get a public job done.

On to the broader issue: no doubt, Takoma Park has high tax rates and rent control (to which our neighbor also recently objected).  And what do we get in return? An oasis of affordable housing and diversity, a community of exceptionally inclusive values, a place where arts and artists thrive, and an atmosphere of compassion.  (Oh yeah, we also get our own, very responsive police department.)  I am proud of Takoma Park and uninterested in counting the pennies I might save by living in a harder, crueler place.

Our high property taxes are indeed a burden for those on fixed incomes, who may have purchased their properties decades ago.  I have long favored assistance to these folks in shouldering the burden.  But for those of means who are opposed to sharing the wealth, there are many alternatives.  In fact, there is an entire nation full of low-tax states and municipalities.  (Alabama awaits!)

If you are of means (and I have no way of  knowing whether our neighbor is, since I’ve never met her) and hate it here, I would suggest moving.  Another neighbor of ours, who spent years railing about nearly every aspect of Takoma Park governance — and especially taxes — on area listservs finally did just that: he sold his house around the corner from me and moved away a few months ago.

As for me, I earn less and have less wealth than many of my friends who are professionals.  But, the thing that separates me from conservatives is that I remember every day that — by virtue of living at this time and in this country — I am wealthier than the huge majority of human beings who have ever walked this planet.  It is remarkable how being in touch with one’s own relative wealth makes generosity (financial and spiritual) so much easier.

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