Making Taxes Work as an Investment

Many folks are anxious about investments because of the risk. No matter how deeply they understand the very real possibility that their future would be positively impacted, the aversion to risk, keeps most from truly investing in a way that would secure their future.

Taxes are actually an investment tactic. We know that investment begets dividends and dividends beget more investing, and more spending, creating more revenue, and more freedom for continued investment and more spending for impactful programming and interventions. Not only do we know this as a principle, we have seen it proven effective. Yet when someone asks us to invest in infrastructure or education via taxes, there is skepticism. 

In general, as a society, we appreciate the dividends that a solid tax base and effective tax rate can provide. We often discuss and debate the merits of what the tax dollars will fund or impact, attempting to dispel the skepticism regarding the tax. However, each of us know, and perhaps take for granted the benefits of tax revenue when it come to initially deciding on whether to implement them. Streets maintained well with tax dollars decrease the amount of our personal income that we have to spend on repairing our cars. Drainage maintained well with tax dollars means that our property isn’t damaged by flooding and our health is attacked by mosquitos breeding in standing water. Schools and educational programs maintained well with tax dollars decrease spending on incarceration and poverty mitigation. 

This is especially the case presently in Dallas. Last summer we discussed investment in infrastructure, debating potholes and street improvements. This year, we find ourselves debating whether to generate tax dollars that would be invested in DISD. Once again, many are debating and discussing how well or poorly DISD is doing in regards to equity in student achievement and parity in teacher effectiveness and compensation. 

However, student success and employee retention, are not divisive ideas in and of themselves. Most would agree that retaining human resources and improving the quality of education student receive are both invaluable outcomes. Yet usually it is not the outcomes that would result from the investment that are creating doubt. It is the structure and management of the tax dollars, the very investment itself.

Whether well versed in policy or minimally briefed with soundbites, accountability and oversight are key factors in the skepticism surrounding the 13 cent increased being proposed. In DISD recent history neither accountability, nor oversight, have been enough on their own. Accountability isn’t enough, especially when we are discussing the possibility of a failed investment in the most precious aspect of our future their is, our children. Accountability without consequences, AND rewards, is meaningless. Additionally, consequences without support and oversight create doubt, fear and instability. Both accountability and consequences are necessary in order to mitigate risk from the investment. 

When both accountability and risk are present, investments are successful, risk is healthy. As currently proposed, the 13 cent tax investment that DISD trustees could put in front of voters is a healthy plan for increasing tax revenue and a strategy using proven tactics for investment in the success of both teachers AND students. What makes the plan solid? Should outcomes not aline with the plan as intended, the voters and tax payers won't have to keep footing the bill for failure.