One of the major accusations lobbed at the austerity programme is that whilst everyone agrees that there must be new taxes, everyone feels that they’re a special case, and that those who can afford new taxes should pay them, but not those who can’t. I’ve thought about this, and I have a suggestion for the government. A means for the public to play a role in controlling how much austerity they can put up with.
Make the new Household Charge voluntary. No household should have to pay it, but can pay a recommended amount, a share of it, or nothing at all. Whatever the household can afford. We can calculate, on a local authority basis, what each county council would have got if every household paid the recommended amount, and therefore we will know what the deficit will be in each county from people choosing to exempt themselves. That’s the amount the county council budget gets cut by, thus allowing central government to make savings on its subvention to local government, and no home to be forced to pay a tax they believe they cannot afford. This way, it’s the public who decide the level of cuts, and how much public spending they are willing to pay for.
What’s that? But local services will be cut? That’s true, but local people can’t afford them. If they could afford them, they’d surely pay the Household Charge, wouldn’t they? And anyway, some people will pay extra, because they can afford to. I have no doubt that most TDs will make an extra contribution, as will various Irish Times columnists and trades union and NGO leaders, and also simple decent people who want to provide extra local services. What’s the problem? Sorry? Other people should pay more? Other people in other counties? But they have the same voluntary right to not pay the charge too. Isn’t that fair? What’s that? You want the Household Charge to be voluntary, but only for you? Why? Because you pay enough in income taxes? Hmm. That’s a point. Maybe, maybe we should make income tax voluntary, on the same principle. After all, the Irish people are a decent, generous people, we are told. If they had to choose between cutting their own taxes, or volunteering to pay extra to fund social services, they’d pay extra, wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t they?