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Tom Jackson

Jackson: Stunt reminds us we pay taxes $1 at a time

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Published:   |   Updated: November 29, 2013 at 11:07 AM

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A woman walks into the tax collector’s office and shoves a box containing $11,075.44 in $1 bills and 44 pennies across the counter — the entirety of her property tax bill — and utters two words.

“Count it.” And four more. “I’ll need a receipt.”

And as the clerks groan, we think, serves ’em right, you know? Prattling on about how long it’s been between raises and the local unemployment rate is still on the high side of 7.5 percent and, frankly, it’s still pretty bad all over.

Know how many Americans think we’re still in a recession? More than half, according to a recent survey by Bankrate.com, and that number hasn’t budged in a year. Know how many Americans worry about losing their jobs to a soft economy? A recent Washington Post-Miller Center poll puts it at more than 6 in 10, the highest level of job anxiety in a dozen such surveys since the 1970s.

Now there goes Pasco County with a happy-days-are-here-again budget that cranks the vise ever so slightly, and here comes Julann Roe to, (a), pony up the property taxes on her house, barn and acreage in Dade City six months before the deadline (all the while getting the maximum early payment discount); and, (b), do so in a way that declares she considers it nothing less than blood money, a ransom paid in unmarked, non-sequential one-buck bills.

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Roe’s cash dump was, make no mistake, a stunt. No, make that a stunt inside a prank wrapped in a protest.

It also was a wickedly delicious piece of performance art. And, like all art, its interpretation is left to the observer. This is in part because Roe neither alerted the media nor released a statement, not even on one of the local Libertarian websites where she is an occasional contributor, and she has otherwise been unavailable for comment.

Then again, the patriots who tossed all that tea into Boston Harbor didn’t issue a heads-up press release or stick around for interviews, either, so Roe has that going for her. And it’s not like John Brown announced his brigade’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. That’s how it is with political hotheads. They figure their actions will speak for themselves.

Of course, we can infer much from Roe’s previous on-the-record comments. There was what she told Pasco County commissioners in September when the board was hashing out a budget that would raise property taxes, largely to hike employees’ salaries for the first time in five years, cover pension payments mandated by the Legislature, and crank up the county’s hiring machine.

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A former member of the Pasco Republican Executive Committee-turned-Libertarian by registration and conviction, Roe unloaded two barrels of Thomas Paine on commissioners, declaring she felt no obligation to foot “any wage increase for any county employee,” and that pretty much went double for funding their pensions. Said Roe: “Save your own money for your own retirement.”

Her summation declared, plainly, these are times that try her soul: “The public is not your slush fund. Stay within your means because we don’t want any more taxes.”

That raised some eyebrows then, but was in keeping with what she said in June 2012 at a focus group organized by Steve Grossenbacher, the late Land O’ Lakes patriot, to critique a county survey that essentially set the table for this year’s boost in taxes: “It’s hard for me to believe people in this day and age would want their taxes raised.”

Roe has her supporters, of course, but there’s also a substantial cohort — based on the comments attached to Tribune staffer Laura Kinsler’s story — who think her actions were frivolous, subversive, delusional and a waste of the very taxpayer dollars she resents paying.

We wonder how many of Roe’s critics were making similarly derisive noises about the “Occupy” movement that served as the soundtrack to the 2012 national election campaign to generally favorable media reviews.

But here’s the deal: Roe’s moment in the political spotlight was an utterly legitimate way to remind us what it means to pay taxes, and to be a taxpayer. It’s real money, and it’s not easy to raise, a lesson often obscured by withholding, escrow accounts and electronic transfers, each automatic action separating us from our money, one well-earned dollar at a time.

We are obliged to Julann Roe for the invitation to debate.

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