Editor’s note: The following post by Beth Messersmith, NC Campaign Director with MomsRising.org, is the latest installment in “Raising the Bar,”  a new series of essays and blog posts authored by North Carolina leaders highlighting ways in which North Carolina public investments are falling short and where and how they can be improved.
This week found my husband and I scrambling to make sure we had all of our I’s dotted and our T’s crossed as we hurried to make sure we had our taxes filed on time.
As he sat watching us from the couch, my almost ten-year old remarked about what a bummer it is to have to pay taxes. His sister stopped doing cartwheels across the living room long enough to agree and opine that she was glad that she didn’t have to pay them out of her allowance.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Anti-tax rhetoric is everywhere in the weeks leading up to tax day. Just that morning on the way to school the deejay on the morning radio show was talking about how much he hates paying taxes.
But their remarks were enough to make me stop my hunt for receipts and pull the kids onto the couch to talk to them about why —as a parent and a part of this country —I don’t mind paying taxes. In fact, I see it as part of my duty as someone who loves this country and benefits every single day from the investments we make as a society. And why, as a parent, I feel especially grateful for the investments we make in our children.
We started off by talking about their schools and the things that make schools work. They listed off their teachers, their supplies, the buses, even the buildings. Then I asked them who they thought owns our schools and employs our teachers. They’d never really thought about it. Explaining it to them gave me a chance to talk about how taxes are actually investments in our community and, in the case of schools, in the futures of the children who attend them. I shared how I benefited from public schools even before they were born as a student myself, as an employer looking to hire qualified people, and as a community member who benefits from an educated society.
From there, we brainstormed other things our taxes pay for that are important for kids and families. Quality early learning programs so kids come to school ready to learn. Child care subsidies so parents can work to support their families-and pay taxes themselves. Universities where these kids will get the education they need to become tomorrow’s engineers, teachers, and scientists. Infant mortality prevention programs so every child gets a chance at life. Healthcare programs so kids and families can get the care they need to be healthy and productive. Early intervention services to help children reach their full potential. Environmental protections to protect the air, water, and land we all need. Roads to get us where we need to go and help farmers and businesses get their products to us. On and on and on, my kids and I brainstormed why taxes matter.
And they got it. Even as elementary school kids, my children understood what it means to invest in our country and why it matters. Do I love the process of pulling together the receipts and filing the paperwork? No. But I’m grateful for what we accomplish together as a nation, and I’m proud to be a part of making it happen. And one day, when my kids grow up to be productive taxpayers and proud graduates of NC’s public school system, I hope that they will remember that they didn’t get there alone. Like me, their dad, and their grandparents before them, they will have benefited from all the investments our country will have made in them and our shared community, and I hope that when tax day rolls around they too will be glad to do their part.