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We must pay for the things we value

There's been an interesting confluence of events recently surrounding services and taxes.

On one hand, we have large demonstrations across the country decrying taxes as too high. On another hand, we see unrest over programs that people like being reduced.

This should be obvious, but many people are missing the point that the two appendages work hand-in-hand. In other words, tax dollars pay for stuff we like, and when those tax dollars go away, so does the stuff we like.

We want our elders in nursing homes to have good lives, we want our kids to be educated, we want our potholes on our street fixed, we want good medicine, we want our country defended, we want our garbage to disappear from the can every week. We just want some magical entity called "the government" to do it for us - for free.

We think of government as a third party, but it's us. When we want to fund something, whether it's high school football or border security, we have to pass the hat. We understand that we have to dig into our pockets during the Sunday offering if our church needs a new roof, but when the school needs a new roof, we expect "the government" to do it.

At least our local and state units of government maintain a balanced budget. That's why you're seeing so much strain right now - the people in charge of those institutions actually have to operate in the realm of reality when making a budget.

At the federal level, we've resolved, right or wrong, to borrow from our grandkids (heck, we've already borrowed the max from our kids, so they're going to be tapped out) and try to work through this financial crisis. If that's our path, we should be sure we're making our own sacrifices first, before turning to the grandkids.

But at "tea parties" across the nation, people held up signs that said "Taxed Enough Already" and decried how much they're contributing when the hat gets passed. We didn't see any signs that said, "Reduce taxes but cut defense spending more to offset the tax cut" or "Raise my taxes but use the proceeds to pay down the national debt." Of course, those don't fit on a placard, and we live in an age where we can't think thoughts so complex that they don't fit on a placard.

Do we want teachers for our kids? Do we want to reduce spending so far that we actually start addressing the dire hole we've dug ourselves into? Do we want tax cuts? Are we willing to pay the true cost of the things we demand?