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Lyons: Are you buying a 377 board ticket?

Many would rather waste their hard-earned money buying Powerball tickets than pay taxes.

Given a choice between handing one-third of your income over to government agencies to do various things from which you might or might not benefit, or contributing one-third of your paycheck toward a 1-in-175 million shot at collecting $550 million, most would select the latter despite the odds.

This is human nature, and while paying taxes isn’t a choice, sucker bets are entirely up to us. We like to think we’re entirely rational beings, yet there’s nothing rational about the likelihood of winning the Powerball lottery. There are plenty of rational reasons to pay taxes.

We can, will and should argue about what taxes we should pay, how much and for which services. But rational people know that without a citizen’s financial duty to the government, we’d live in anarchy. Survival of the fittest, the richest and the better armed.

As a middle-aged dude who doesn’t own a gun and has chosen a career in journalism, I assume I’d be toiling in some Apple manufacturing plant for iTunes gift cards in this dystopian society of my imagination. Instead, the government takes its cut from my paycheck, and the county treasurer sends me a bill twice a year.

We’re a rational society, so we’ve come to expect that we will pay taxes for basic things, in no particular order, such as military defense, public schools, roads, snow removal, police protection, a justice system and to assist in the basic needs of the poor. There are many other things, and some of the least rational fringes of our rational society will quibble over the need to pay even for those basic government functions.

When any element of government proposes a new form of tax, particularly when residents themselves can vote on whether they want to pay it, expect a battle. Odds definitely aren’t 1-in-175 million, but they’re long to say the least.

So it will be interesting to watch the public discussion that takes place over the McHenry County Board’s proposal to form a new taxing district, a 377 board, to pay for services to support the developmentally disabled.

The new tax would mean an increase of about $60 a year to the owner of a $200,000 home who takes the homestead exemption. As examples of some of the need, county officials say there are more than 400 individuals in McHenry County who need group homes and more than 700 families in the county in need of respite care.

I’m not trying to sell anyone on the referendum, but if you know anyone or have even spoken to anyone in these situations, you’d have some idea of just how taxing severe developmental disabilities can be on a family or an individual. The problem is real – not some tax-grabbing invention.

But even those who are sympathetic to the cause will need some solid convincing of exactly how it will work, where the money is going, how it will be distributed, and what the administrative costs will be. The more detailed and honest the answers, the greater the chances of holding a winning ticket.

• Kevin Lyons is news editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4505 or email him at kelyons@shawmedia.com.

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