I am a member of an age group that asks an age-old question: “Why should we pay school taxes? Our kids are raised.”
Thirty years ago, in a column about a conversation I had in 1988 with a senior citizen, I got myself in some family trouble. That conversation was with my mother, who was then age 76, one year older than I am today.
Mom was a member of the “Greatest Generation.” She started working in 1930, during the Great Depression. At times during those years, she was the only one bringing home a paycheck in her family of two parents and six children.
By 1939, when she married Dad, she quit working for three years. Then World War II came along. Mom and millions of other women went to work in factories. After the war, she stayed because she and Dad bought a house, for $4,000.
She never again quit until she retired at age 62. Dad died when she was 42, and she was her own sole support for the rest of her life. She also supported me for about a decade.
Tough girl. Proud, too.
“I worked for everything I have,” she would say. “I never took handouts. I never went on the dole.”
Mom did not begrudge welfare, or government surplus food handouts, to people who were really unable to work. But she had only scorn for people who could work but did not.
Generally, Mom was a sunny, upbeat person with a contagious laugh and a ready smile.
But I could send her into a boiling mad tizzy if I even hinted that she was less than self-sufficient.
Generally, I did not go there.
But on occasion, her “friends” would feed her tidbits to suggest to her son the newspaper writer, hoping that I would do a news story that would be to their benefit.
One such tidbit concerned school taxes. Here is a summary of a typical conversation.
MOM: Why should I pay school taxes? My kids are raised. You have kids. You pay for the schools.
ME: OK. Let’s make that change right now. But while we are at it, let’s cancel your Social Security checks.
MOM: (Unprintable expletive in Italian), Waitaminnit! I PAID for that Social Security!
ME: Mom, everything you paid into Social Security was used up with your first four years of Social Security checks.
MOM: (Italian synonym for bovine excrement)!
Once, I sat her down and showed her, with pencil and paper.
When she started to pay into Social Security, she paid a pittance. Over 30 years, her payments averaged about 3 percent of what she earned in her younger working years.
“Say you earned $80 a week,” I would suggest. “You paid, what, $2.40 a week?” That would be about $10 a month.
Mom retired in 1973, and drew about $400 a month.
So, I would suggest, by 1980, she had drawn out all of the money she had paid into the Social Security account.
“Ha! What about the interest, Mr. Smarty Pants College Guy?” she would fume.
OK, I would say. Let’s give you another seven years at $400 a month, about $5,000 a year. That’s $35,000 that you maybe, coulda, perhaps, in a good run of stock market years, earned in interest.
That run ended last year.
So, in 1988, the money you get comes from the money that I am paying into Social Security, not from the money you paid in. My Social Security payments back then went to support three or four retirees. (Today, the money from each person paying into Social Security supports just two of us retirees.)
“I’ll accept your deal,” I would say. “You quit paying school taxes of $300 to $400 a year, mostly property taxes since you don’t earn wages or pay wage tax any longer.
“And I will quit paying about $5,000 a year in Social Security because I won’t have to cover the cost of your Social Security check any longer.”
Needless to say, the conversation turned rather chilly.
Now let’s move ahead to this year, to 2018.
I chat with fellow retirees.
“Hey, Denny,” some will suggest. “Why don’t you write a column about why should we senior citizens pay school taxes? Our kids are raised.”
I think I just did.
See, the politicians love it when they turn one group of us against another group.
We really ought to be telling them, “You get 25 percent of my earnings, no more, no less” for every tax, from federal income tax to township property tax.
“You run the federal, state and local governments on that, or we’ll boot your sorry butt out and elect someone else who will do just that.”
Will we say that?
This is, after all, an election year. Why are we even listening to the “Re-elect MEEEE!” pleas of incumbents?
Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org