Last week, the St. Louis Business Journal made some prominent local residents uneasy with an article about State sponsored tax credits for the preservation and renovation of homes deemed to be historic. I really have no problem with such tax credits. Most of these home owners can afford to restore and preserve these houses without State tax breaks. By connecting the tax credit to historic preservation, the State just might be preventing some horrific renovation designs and add-ons that would certainly lessen the charm of these neighborhoods. But I do see these tax credits in a larger context.
Our adversarial political system has turned “taxes” into a dirty word, not to be used in public, unless in a sentence accusing an opponent of raising them. We have been relentlessly indoctrinated into a mindset that views taxation as a tool of the devil. We fantasize about paying lower taxes while at the same time expecting lower crime rates, better highways, and schools. Knowing that talk of raising taxes has abruptly ended many political careers, candidates for office avoid discussing real problems which might involve tax increases — unless a bridge collapses with great loss of life. Or, they ask us to rely on paying higher fees for government services - pretending that fees are not taxes.
Tax credits are the same as tax raises. Every dollar given in a credit will have to be replaced by one paid in a tax. In a perfect world, the loss of State revenue through historic preservation credits would be made up by the sales tax paid on the goods used in the preservation project. In a perfect world, most of us would benefit from one or another tax related rule that lowers the taxes we should pay. In that same perfect world, all of us should benefit from the services paid for by taxes. I only wish that those who benefit the most from deductions, allowances and credits would stop pretending that taxes are some sort of cosmic evil. They are only evil when they are not spent for the benefit of all.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Mark Shook is Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Israel.