'I can't believe I pay taxes for this': New op-ed offers critical assessment of the US legal system
You ever look at your paystub and get depressed? Am I only one who sees my paycheck deductions and feels like I'm not getting my money's worth for the government services provided?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we shouldn't pay taxes. I'd like to think any good citizen would be happy to contribute to a healthy functional society. I just feel like I'm not getting my money's worth. Especially when I know the ridiculously wealthy, the true welfare queens, are not contributing 33% of their incomes in the years they even pay income taxes at all. When I look at my depleted stubs, analyze the deductions and see the job that my city, state and federal governments are doing with those funds, I can't help but think the juice ain't worth the squeeze.
Let's talk about basics — roads and bridges. I have traveled to countries where some roads are left incomplete — as in, you are driving on the highway and then the highway just stops — so I appreciate the infrastructure we do have in America. However, I live in Baltimore City, where the streets are crumbling like a damp cookie. Don't think about drinking a cup of coffee on the way to work because the truck-sized potholes will guarantee multiple stains all over your shirt. Sometimes I feel like I should buy my daughter a helmet because the uneven grooves make her bounce up and down. (Thank God we sprung for the expensive car seat.) One of the main roads to my house literally looks and feels like some sort of sick virtual reality video game. I have to bob and weave between orange traffic cones and city workers and dump trucks and excavators before slowing down to drive over the chunks of earth that have been gutted and try not to collide with the construction that has been going on for over three years. And the only thing that has been broken longer than that road to my house is funding for our public school system.
I have been very vocal about my love for public schools and public school teachers. Many of them are beyond excellent. They work extremely hard and have made giant strides in elevating the lives of our children. But those same excellent, hardworking teachers may still never reach their full potential because school funding depends in part on local property taxes, which means the ones in poor neighborhoods who need the most almost don't have a chance at competing against schools in wealthier neighborhoods full of resources.
And in some of those underfunded, overwhelmed schools, it can be easier for some poor administrators and teachers to slip through the cracks than it would be in institutions with fewer overall stresses on their systems. I once dreamed of sending my daughter to public school so that she can have an experience like mine and be socialized in diverse realities. But my experiences have also forced me to consider private schools. I feel more and more like this is yet another institution I pay into but will never be able to use, like the police.
I have a history of joking with cops when they confront me: "Offer me top rate service, officer, I pay your salary!" But I never call the police myself unless I need to file a police report because it's needed for insurance reimbursement. Other than that, never. For one, they tend to be bad at their jobs. And two, they might shoot me.
Once I called the cops after someone slashed all four of my tires. I was a broke grad student at the time, no drama in my life that would have provoked an act of spiteful vandalism. Honestly, I think the slasher targeted the wrong car. But when I called the cops to have one come down and fill out a report, the joker got mad at me.
"I'm not sure these tires were slashed, buddy," the short unibrowed officer said, circling the car in his tiny work boots, scratching his head with the brim of his hat. "These look like pretty standard flats to me."
"You think I got four flats at the same time? Are you kidding me?"
"Listen here, buddy, my dad owns a garage in Detroit," he said. "So I like to think I know a thing or two about tires."
"Detroit, what? Just write the report." I laughed to suppress my anger, to avoid an argument that could turn ugly, and to get the paperwork I needed to file my insurance claim.
The cop begrudgingly wrote the report.
If a person puts a gun to my head and robs me of my belongings, I will not call the police even though my taxes help pay for their services. I don't expect the police to comfort me, listen to me, or to solve the crime. And even if they were likely to solve the crime, I don't think jail would solve the problems that caused the person to rob me in the first place. And that's another thing we have to pay for, too.
I've been feeling this way about the system and its return on our investments for a while, but the recent Supreme Court decisions just made everything feel more urgent.
Last week, the court reversed Roe v. Wade, declaring that a woman's constitutional right to abortion, precedent that has been in place for nearly a half century, no longer exists. This happened after justices responsible for the change had denied any intentions of overturning the landmark decision during their confirmation hearings. Donald Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, along with Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, also just curbed the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to mitigate climate change by setting limits on how they regulate power plants. And we paid their salaries while they did it.
Our hard-earned money pays for their homes, the island vacations they take their families on, the cars they drive, the meals they eat. Associate justices make $274,200 a year; the chief justice brings in $286,700. Which may not be a lot of money in the grand scheme of the federal budget, but let's remember the estimated average salary of the American worker last year was $58,260. And who among them has a job guaranteed for life?
I'm sure I'm not the only one feeling, in this moment, like the judicial branch of the government might have been one of the greatest mistakes of the nation's founders, filed right below allowing slavery to exist in this new country they fought to create. Maybe they imagined those lifetime appointments would always be held by somber experts in jurisprudence who would put the good of the nation first, and not an assembly of ideologically-drunk, politically-motivated clowns. How can checks and& balances exist when the majority on the court's goal appears to be serving the interests of one political party? And we get the bill!
Again, I'll proudly pay my fair share of taxes because I believe in accountability and doing my part. But when will these broken systems be held accountable like the rest of us already are?