Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Taxes, Seagram's, Push Polls and Telephones

“Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”

~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

I had just finished doing the dishes last night and was looking forward to grabbing one of the beer-sized bottles of flavored Seagram’s that we bought last weekend and maybe signing into Facebook when the phone rang.

Have I mentioned how much I dislike talking on the phone?

I really dislike it, even when it’s Anita, my mother or one of the kids on the other end. So when I answered last night and was asked if I could spare 12 minutes for a survey, I winced. I envisioned the survey taker sitting in a stuffy, windowless basement office somewhere, empty pizza boxes stacked in the corner, trying his damndest to find people willing to complete his lengthy survey so he could earn $5 per call. So I begrudgingly agreed.

He said the survey was about business taxes on equipment. I couldn’t really see such a survey taking 12 minutes but I told him to go ahead. He then began asking about taxes in Michigan: did I support replacing most business taxes with a straight six percent tax on corporations, which has already been done, and did I believe it’s important for municipalities to be able to afford police, fire, road repair, schools and libraries? (I answered ‘no’ to the former and ‘yes’ to the latter.) Then he started in on a series of questions relating to an upcoming proposal to do away with taxing businesses on equipment and trusting the legislature to replace that lost revenue with other savings.

If I understood the guy correctly, the proposal – which will appear on the August ballot – phases out the tax that businesses pay on commercial and industrial equipment and guarantees that local governments will receive “most” of what they need to fund essential services through implementation of a new “use tax.” Local governments have already had to close schools, lay off public safety workers, close parks and let roads crumble in recent years due to declining state revenue sharing. This sounds like just another tax shift to me.

After the ninth or tenth question about this obviously Republican-backed, pro-business proposal, I finally said, “Look, I don’t mean to be a jerk because I know you’re just reading from a script, but I. Oppose. This. Proposal. And. My. Mind. Is. Made. Up.” He responded with, “Okay, but can I just finish running through these questions so I can complete the survey?” I took a deep breath and relented.

He then had me rank, on a scale of one to ten, how much I cared what various individuals and entities thought about the proposal. Governor Rick Snyder, Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley and the Michigan Manufacturers Association scored zeroes; teachers, librarians and local officials fared better. Then he started his next question with, “Since Michigan is at a big disadvantage in terms of luring new businesses here because of our high taxes...” “Wait a minute!,” I interrupted. “Taxes aren’t the only factor that businesses consider when deciding where to relocate. They look at the quality of schools and the transportation infrastructure and the crime rate and whether there are parks and...”

“Sir,” the guy cut in, “would you consider yourself a Democrat?” I hate the restrictive, one-dimensional aspect of that label and I’ve lost more than a little sleep because of Democrats at the state and national levels but I said, “Does the Pope live in Vatican City? Listen, I oppose any more attempts to reduce taxes on businesses and shift the burden to those least able to shoulder it. If that sounds like a Democrat, so be it.” The guy actually sighed – I guess I was the one who was taxing – and plunged ahead with his push poll.

I’m proud to say I ignored my rising blood pressure and answered his remaining questions – about my ethnicity, household income level, educational background and other divisive demographic characteristics – until the wonderful, magical moment when he finally said, “Okay, that concludes this survey and I want to thank you for your time.” I was pleased that I hung in there. I was pleased that I helped enhance the dude’s completed survey rate. I was pleased that I spoke up for the little guy and overcame my almost debilitating aversion to conversing on the telephone. And I was pleased that Anita let me have the last Black Cherry Seagram’s instead of the last Watermelon Splash Seagram’s, which is like fetid cough syrup and was probably concocted by a tax-phobic, Grover Norquist-loving conservative.

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