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Tax Day

There’s a story in my family that goes back a few decades.  It’s the kind of story people like to pull out and dust off over the holidays, when everyone is enjoying some cheer and good company.  The story goes something like this:

When I was very young, my parents decided to load my brother and I up and make a long road trip from Billings to Columbus, Ohio, to visit grandparents and other family for Christmas.  The trip takes about 24 hours of driving time under the best of circumstances.  When you’re travelling in an old Plymouth Horizon with your young family in the dead of winter – well, you see what we were up against.

So the story goes that on day two of the drive, I got upset.  Maybe my brother was encroaching on my space, or maybe I was tired of the car.  In any case, I started wailing and hollering.  And before long, dark clouds blew in, snow began to fall, and we were driving in a blizzard. 

“Well Sarah,” my father said.  “You did it.  You cried up a storm.”

I have my own two year old now.  I think back to that story often, especially when my son takes issue with the world and how we run it.  This time of year, though – now that the snow is gone and the sun is out – I’m thinking about the story in another frame of mind.

I’m thinking about how my family drove sixteen hundred miles across eight states on paved, plowed, and patrolled highways.  About how we visited the Columbus Zoo on New Year’s Day.  About how we lit up the Christmas tree and talked on the phone to other relatives, and how we when were back in Billings my brother and I returned to school to tell our friends all about it.

What do all these things have to do with this time of year?  They’re paid for by taxes.

Next Tuesday is Tax Day.  I suspect we’ll hear our fair share of complaints – taxes seem to have an awfully bad reputation these days.  But this year, I want to celebrate the amazing things our taxes support – from schools to parks, roads to public safety.  All these programs and services make Montana a great place to live and help keep our families and communities safe, strong, and healthy.

The truth is, Montana is a great place to live and work because generations before us have made wise investments in education, infrastructure, and safe, healthy communities. To continue to grow Montana’s economy and ensure our children and grandchildren can stay and succeed here, we need to build on this foundation.

A responsible budget both adequately invests in today’s needed public services while also preparing Montana for future demands caused by an evolving economy and changing demographics.  And a balanced budget is supported by an adequate, equitable, and sustainable tax structure.

This year, I’m thankful my family can swim, float, and fish in the world-class rivers and streams Montana is known for – and also come home and drink safe, fresh water from the tap.  I’m thankful that come fire season, my community will be protected from forest fires by the best firefighters around.  I’m thankful my son can attend the public elementary school down the street when he’s old enough in a few years, alongside his friends from the neighborhood.  And I’m thankful that anyone in my community – regardless of income – can access health care through our community health center.

I’m proud that my taxes support my community – that our shared investment as Montanans makes this state a place we all want to call home.

So next week, on Tax Day, don’t just think about those taxes that disappear from your paycheck.  Think about where they go – and how we’re all better off for it.

I’m Sarah Howell with Montana Women Vote.  Thanks for listening and have a terrific weekend.

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