Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Windham County

Now that I'm really dividing my time between the city and the country, I'm getting a more intimate, personal feel for rural culture and society. As you know, politically the country folk lean much more Republican. It doesn't really make sense in terms of their interests, at least if you want my Heller School fueled policy analysis. But I do have some sense of some of the reasons.

For one thing, people experience much less in the way of obvious direct returns on their taxes. My town has no police department, and little occasion to want police services. We do pay the state for use of the state police, but they are hardly ever seen. We have no publicly funded trash pickup. We have no commercial district to speak of and so no need for enforcement of regulations on potentially obnoxious businesses, or elaborate land use planning and zoning. We pay a small fee to a district for sanitary code enforcement at our single restaurant/grocery store/bait shop, but most people are probably unaware it even happens. We have a volunteer fire company.

The town maintains a baseball field and a couple of tennis courts, but doesn't provide any recreational programming. (The non-profit historical society and other groups sponsor activities.) The town maintains and plows some roads, and of course we pay for public education, now entirely through a district. (Our elementary school recently closed.) There is no community health center anywhere near by -- you have to drive 30 miles for a doctor. There is no public transit of any kind. Without the state college and community college system, people in rural Connecticut would have no chance at higher education, but they still have to pay more than they can afford for it and probably don't think of it as a benefit of their tax payments. You get the idea.

No wonder people have the feeling their state and federal taxes are just disappearing to who knows where; and town taxes seem bizarrely arbitrary. In addition to real estate, horses are taxed, but no other species of animal. Wagons and carriages are not taxable, but tractors are, unless you're in the farming business with revenues of at least $15,000 a year, in which case there is an exemption. Mechanics' and carpenters' tools are taxed. In other words, there's a tax on self-sufficiency and small scale enterprise, which is all the people have since there aren't any jobs to speak of nearby. It's insane, and I happen to personally resent it.

Now the fact is lots of people get disability, food stamps, and other assistance, but they don't talk about it and nobody notices. Of course lots of people get Social Security and Medicare, but they don't have much formal education and they are very easy to deceive and to scare, which is what the Republicans do. And it works. But it's not just a communication issue. We really do need to do more for the country folk.


roger said...

so they tax your tractor? i am curious about the mechanics and carpenters tool tax. is that for businesses? how do "they" know who has tools?

i tried to address the larger issue of taxation weirdness you raise quite well, but the intangibles of what we get for our taxes overwhelmed me.

we definitely should have free rural and urban clinics available. oh dear, that's socialized medicine.

Cervantes said...

They probably don't know who has tools, and most people probably don't declare them. But it's a small town. Anyone who has a visible business gets a letter from the tax assessor. The biggest taxpayer in town is the guy who owns the auto repair and body shop, located right on the town green, because he can't get away with anything.

She spotted my tractor when she was checking out the new house for the grand list.

I've told her to stay away in the future unless she has an appointment.

I don't know if it's cost-effective to have a clinic located in Scotland, but transportation to Willimantic would be A#1.

C. Corax said...

Your town sounds like the town where I have property, only your town has a bit more going on.

If you browse through the old tax records from when the town was first settled, you'll see why that stuff was taxed. Back then, a tool was something that was expected to last a lifetime and were valuable assets. The tax laws have simply lingered on the books for several centuries.

davidknz said...

If you want further comment on the Great American Health Care system, from a different perspective, try

But you already know this :-)