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Today’s Essay

Funding States and Cities: How Dollars Work (Part 1)

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If, "in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes," in the United States, taxes are a little more certain than death. Americans, after all, pay taxes to not just one national government, but to at least two additional ones as well: their state and locality. Paradoxically though, the framers of the U.S. Constitution believed that by establishing a system of multiple governments with independent taxing authority, the total tax burden placed on citizens would be less than it would be if one gargantuan government existed. For anyone that has ever filed your own taxes, you know that it is highly technical and subject to precise calculations, lengthy procedure, and numerous exemptions. Yet, at its most basic level, the methods by which governments acquire money are political determinations -- reflective of each community's unique history, size, political culture, and available resources. The variation across different levels of government and between governments of similar scale reflects the political diversity American federalism nourishes. Understanding that variation in all of its complexity is the first step towards evaluating how federalism, despite creating many governments, can actually reduce the total tax burden placed on the American taxpayer.

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