THE TIME HAS COME TO SUPPORT TAXES FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

by Whit Gibbons

October 9, 2011


Politicians have no problem proclaiming their position on taxes. Though I am not running for public office, I too want to proclaim my position. Public schools, roads, libraries, police, and firefighters all benefit society at large. They also have another feature in common: they are supported by a combination of city, county, state, and federal taxes. Most politicians have no problem supporting these programs from the public coffers.

Other programs contribute to the public good from an ecological perspective, and each needs to be targeted for the proper distribution of tax revenues. Some should even be considered for higher funding levels because they are critical to the environmental health of the nation.

Let's start at the city and county levels. Any region with an average density of people will have problems with animals, both domestic and wild. Heavily populated counties always need an animal control program of some sort. Someone must be available to take care of abused or dangerous domestic animals: unhappy cats living in severely overcrowded conditions; free-ranging, ownerless dogs with bad attitudes roaming a neighborhood. A fact some people might find disturbing is that in certain states it is not illegal to keep potentially dangerous animals, including African lions, as house pets. Always good to have dedicated animal control officers on call when a lion owner accidentally leaves the door open and a big, hungry cat is on the loose.

But the chances are that your county animal control unit is severely understaffed. These people are among the least appreciated public service officials because much of what they do is behind the scenes. Most of them really care about animals and are committed to their jobs. Strengthening animal control programs helps build better communities. Let's allocate more tax money for that purpose.

At the state level, environmental programs that pertain to nongame species are often given a low priority. The environmental welfare of nongame species is usually under the State Department of Natural Resources or its equivalent. Yet a woefully small proportion of a state's budget is spent on programs to determine the population status of nongame species, a barometer of the ecological health of a region. Who is checking to see whether populations of gopher frogs, box turtles, or green pitcher plants are stable or declining? These and many other nongame species are indicators of ecosystem stability and environmental vigor. Keeping ecological records on such species requires dedicated DNR biologists. Keeping a state's natural habitats healthy should be the responsibility of the people of the state. This is accomplished with an evenhanded distribution of tax revenues.

Finally, the need for federal taxes for the country's national park system cannot be overstated. The gradual erosion of funding to support some of the finest environmentally protected areas in the world is deplorable. Anyone in this country should be able to visit any national park and find first-rate facilities and services upon arrival. The same can be said for the many superb state parks where natural habitats are protected and outdoor recreational opportunities abound. Spending tax money to help keep such programs from declining is in the best interest of the general public. We definitely get our tax money's worth from the personnel who oversee and manage state and national parks. Park rangers are some of the best buys for the money that can be found at the state or federal level. Our tax monies are going for a good cause when they support parks. Cutting funding levels for parks should not even be on the table for consideration.

Politicians who say they want to reduce the taxpayer's burden abound. I would like to hear a politician with the courage to say that maintaining a safe and healthy environment is worth paying for--and that accomplishing that goal without taxes is impossible. Someone willing to run on a platform supporting environmental protection and adequate funding for public parks would be welcome. And I am not alone in wishing for such a person to enter the political arena.


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