I have a confession to make. I have recently taken on a new lover and what we do every week is pure magic. The attraction is undeniable. It cannot be resisted. No matter how much the pairing is forbidden on the surface, I am in deep. I have developed a deep and ardent affair with – a consumption tax.
As a staunch Libertarian, I am generally opposed to taxation, in any shape, size, or color. But I am hooked. Let me explain.
I live in the city of Plantation, Florida, which is in Broward County in the southern part of the state. The way we pay for the trash removal service here is a little bit different from the way you probably do it in your home town. We do not pay a fee or a property tax for the garbage service here, nor is the cost included in the rest of the city’s budget. Our city has a very interesting and, at least to me, unique system for paying for this service. We pay a consumption tax, which might also be referred to as a user fee.
In Plantation, the trash collectors will only pick up trash if it’s in a particular kind of clearly-identified trash bag. These special trash bags are purchased at the local grocery store, just like any other trash bag. However, these trash bags cost a little more than a conventional trash bag. The extra cost is a ‘tax’ that is included in the price of the bag. This is how we pay for our trash pickup service. If a plain, ordinary trash bag costs 13 cents, these ‘City of Plantation trash bags’ cost 16 cents each. Under this system, the more trash you produce for pickup, the more bags you must use. The more bags you use, the more you pay. Since the cost of the trash removal service depends on how many of these bags are required, it pleases me to participate in this “tax collection.”
Trash pickup is twice weekly here in good old Plantation. Our home averages one curbed trash bag per week, while some of our neighbors average three or more per week. I understand every household is different. We compost our table scraps and shred our cardboard and paper waste, and that alone reduces our trash output. In addition, we break down items whenever possible, so that they take up less space in the bag. We do a lot of cooking and eating at home, which reduces the amount of ‘to go’ packaging as well. All in all, we try to be planet-friendly, if only in a small way. But this approach has its disadvantages as well. Our approach requires more time, and takes up precious outdoor space used for composting. Also, cooking at home produces waste which we wouldn’t have if we simply dined out.
Maybe our household has a leg up over our neighbors, using small footprint practices, but the big attraction behind this love fest is that I control the cost of the service. It is not mandated or shoved down my throat, which always rubs this Libertarian the wrong way. I could simply grumble about the higher prices of the trash bags but since I control how many are used, it sits quite well with me. If I object to how much this service is costing me, it’s up to me to find ways of reducing my usage ever further.
The Libertarian platform desires the ideal – a small government with the all the unnecessary stuff boiled away. While Libertarians share the same ultimate goals, as a practical measure, most of us embrace any positive movement towards them. And in this instance, I believe that a small tax that I can regulate is practical movement towards smaller government. So while some of my colleagues in the Libertarian Party may disagree, I happily embrace it.
Although I am a Libertarian who generally opposes all forms of taxation, under this particular tax, the taxpayer has a degree of control over how much tax he or she pays. While I believe that under most circumstances, the best tax is no tax, I also believe that a consumption tax or user fee, like this one, is the most bearable of all forms of tax.
by Michael Smith – Secretary of the Libertarian Party of Broward County