Tax dollars that work, and the tax-reform plan that won’t – NC Rep. Verla Insko

Rep. Verla Insko
Rep. Verla Insko

It’s all about taxes: Who will benefit from or be hurt by the federal tax package? Will the state tax cuts produce more jobs for low-income families or leave the state with a $1.2 billion shortfall in the 2019 state budget? Lost is any reminder of why we pay taxes in the first place.

I’m proud and happy to pay taxes to ensure I live in a democracy and have access to essential goods and services that I can’t buy on my own; but I surely don’t want a penny misspent. The evidence over the past century is that the government of the United States of America was both responsible and wildly successful spending our tax dollars.

The increase in life expectancy is just one example of how government used tax dollars to benefit all Americans and make us the richest, most powerful country in the world. In 1900, life expectancy in the U.S. was 47 years; in 2000, it was 77 years. In the first half of the 20th century, this increase was due primarily to the reduction of infant mortality from 100 deaths per thousand to seven deaths per thousand and the reduction in the maternal mortality rate to 0.1 percent. In the second half of the 20th century, advances in medical care and pharmaceuticals expanded the life of older adults. Government expenditure of our tax dollars played a major role in all three groups.

It was government-paid public health nurses that identified cow’s milk and dirty water supplies as the source of the diseases that killed infants and young children; it was government that required pasteurized milk and clean drinking water supplies that cut the child fatality rate and increased life expectancy.

Sulfa drugs and penicillin were the first big breakthroughs in fighting bacteria with medicine; but some new drugs were deadly. In response to deaths caused by a toxic solvent used to produce the sulfa drug, Congress passed the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 to require testing for all new drugs. In 1941, our tax dollars paid for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support the Penicillin Project that hastened the development of safe and effective penicillin.

It was and still is government funded research through the National Institutes of Health that leads to the private and public sector development of vaccines, drugs and medical procedures that continue to protect and improve life for children and adults. Life expectancy for Americans is now 78.8 years.

Similar examples can be made in many other arenas. The investment of our tax dollars help develop and support critical advances in: education, health care, transportation, agriculture, economic development, international trade, clean air, clean energy, and much more. Most of the technologies at our fingertips today are based on government supported research and development performed over several decades beginning around the time of the Second World War and extending to current NASA based research. The long-term investments of our tax dollars in research and development we will continue to stimulate the private sector to innovate and grow our economy.

Neither government nor the market is perfect. Government sometimes fails and sometime misspends our tax dollars; we expect periodic market failures. The 20th century progress was possible because the public and the private sector worked together and worked out differences. Cutting taxes and eliminating regulations won’t cure any problems that exist in government. Electing people who are committed to bridging the divide between the public and the private sectors will better serve that purpose.

A large majority of economists from both political parties agree the tax package will not stimulate economic growth; it will increase taxes for people making less than $75,000 and will increase the federal budget deficits by up to $1.7 trillion over 10 years. Congress should pass a tax package that reduces loopholes, simplifies filing and is revenue neutral.

Rep. Verla Insko D-House District 56, represents Orange County in the General Assembly.