Only two things that are certain

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

Today’s the Day.

There are hundreds of quotes, jokes and old sayings about paying our taxes. Well, today’s the day for paying those income taxes and for rolling out some of those old jokes and quotes.

Despite the attempts at humor, I don’t believe that I’ve ever met anyone who enjoys paying taxes, or anyone who thinks our system of assessing and collecting taxes is perfect.

Far from it. Most people hate the system. Most people dread this mid-April day when our taxes are finally due.

I’ve heard it said that, “The day that all Americans are pleased with our system of taxation will be the day that hell freezes over.”

Well, as I sit here on Monday morning writing this column, it’s snowing like the devil in my back yard. I am absolutely sure that most Americans are still not pleased about paying their taxes today, so I can also assume that, despite the snow, hell is not freezing over. At least not today.

The people of America have never been happy about taxation. This dates to the days when American colonists became furious that the English Parliament could levy taxes on them, but the same Parliament refused to allow them to have a representative.

Anger over the issue of taxation led to the Revolutionary War where “no taxation without representation” became a rallying cry for the colonists.

In the early days of our country, tariffs were the main source of revenue for the federal government.

A tariff is a tax on goods that a country imports or exports. For example, when cotton was exported from Alabama to France, besides the cost of the cotton, the purchaser also had to pay a tariff. The money from that tariff went to the American government to pay for government expenses.

Our federal government also imposed excise taxes on several products that were produced and sold in the United States. This started during the presidency of George Washington and continues to this day.

In fact, President Washington, with the support of Congress, implemented an excise tax on whiskey. This new tax was going to be used to help pay off war debt. Instead, it infuriated the American people to the point where there was a Whiskey Rebellion.

Although Americans appreciate most of the services that are paid for with our tax dollars, there will never be agreement on how much the government should spent on defense versus education, versus highways, versus healthcare, versus… well, any government-provided service.

Today would probably be easier to deal with if our system of taxation wasn’t so confusing.

Albert Einstein, one of the smartest people ever, is quoted as saying, “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” That’s a frightening thing to hear from the genius who gave us the theory of relativity.

If Einstein could do all the math and physics needed to figure out relativity and yet struggled with his taxes, the rest of us mere mortals are in deep trouble.

I also like what humorist Will Rogers had to say about the certainty of death and taxes. He once said, “The difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.”

He was right. It seems that every time congress meets we’re taxed for something new.

When tax laws are changed, the overall amount of taxes collected rarely ever goes down. It’s just shifted from being taken from one person’s right pocket to another person’s left pocket.

Winston Churchill understood the complex operations of government better than most people. He was also very adept at expressing complex issues in simple terms. Churchill once said, “For a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.”

Government should never take more money than it needs to provide services. Calvin Coolidge recognized this when he stated, “Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery.”

I think we would all agree with that.

I also think we would agree with Arthur Godfrey, the humorist and early TV host who stated, “I am proud to be paying taxes in the United States. The only thing is, I could be just as proud for half of the money.”

Despite the frustration and anger that surrounds this day, we all recognize that it does take money to keep the gears of government turning.

I just wish that the grease that is used to keep the gears moving smoothly wasn’t quite so expensive.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and a local resident of more than 40 years.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist