Reclaiming Public Discourse About Taxes

Every year during tax season Americans file their taxes while media coverage of the tax deadline--along with the conservative Tax Foundation’s “Tax Freedom Day”--perpetuates anti-government sentiment. These cynical perspectives on public revenues dominate the public discourse and go unchallenged by those who support the essential roles of government. It is time advocates for public systems and services offer a counter narrative about the crucial role that local, state and federal revenues play in creating the quality of life we should be able to expect. We need to tell this narrative by focusing  tax discussions on the public structures made possible by taxes, linking taxes to the “common good,” and emphasizing the role taxes play in helping us meet our goals for the future.  

On March 29th, 2011 Public Works hosted a webinar on ways to take advantage of tax season as an opportunity to communicate a different story about the role of taxes in our country. The resources from this webinar are available on this page, including:
  • A recorded video of the webinar;
  • The powerpoint used in the presentation;
  • A guide that examines the most common anti-tax narratives, offers lessons on how to respond to hypothetical questions, and includes tips on avoiding common pitfalls.

Talking About Taxes: Do's And Dont's

  • Do connect tax discussions to what taxes pay for and to the benefits that accrue to everyone from those activities.
  • Do use values that are supported by adequate taxes  such as the “common good” and “community well-being”.
  • Do call attention to the future implications of decisions made today.

  • Don't assume facts alone will win the day.
  • Don't rely on a fairness argument without first explaining shared benefit and shared responsibility.
  • Don't trigger consumerist thinking by focusing on the services people “buy with their tax dollars”
  • Don't reinforce stereotypes of government waste.
  • Don’t reinforce negative frames: tax burden, tax relief, hard earned tax dollars, taxpayer, etc.

Reconnecting Tax Season to the Common Good: PDF Guide

This guide (PDF version) provides strategies for creating a better conversation about taxes. We examine the most common anti-tax narratives, offer lessons on how to respond to hypothetical questions, and include tips on avoiding common pitfalls.

Recording of 3/29/2011 Webinar and Powerpoint

This video presentation is a recording of our webinar held on 3/29/2011. This webinar draws on our research as well as real-world examples.

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Patrick Bresette, Public Works: The Demos Center for the Public Sector

Shannon Spillane, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Elaine Mejia, Public Works: The Demos Center for the Public Sector

For further resources, there is a powerpoint version of this webinar. Additional powerpoint and narrated presentations can be found in our presentations section.

Strategies for Getting the Word Out

Here are a few concrete ideas for engaging in the federal, state, and local conversations in the coming weeks.
  • Find out which reporters and media outlets covered Tax Day and Tax Freedom Day last year and reach out to them in advance.
  • Send out a media alert before Tax Freedom Day and/or Tax Day alerting reporters to call you for the facts and a compelling alternative perspective.
  • Get out an Op-ed. Draft it now, send it to Public Works to review if you’d like, and then plug in the data when it arrives. You’ll be first out of the gate and the most likely to get placed.
  • Show up at a Tax Day Tea party event and speak to the reporters there. Don’t let them find a random person walking down the road to get a different take.
  • Give out good talking points to your allies and encourage them to speak out during tax season. One way for them to speak out is by commenting on media articles and stories on Tax Freedom Day and Tax Day.
  • Make it a point to call in to talk radio shows on Tax Freedom Day and Tax Day.
  • Be creative about reconnecting taxes to their purposes: hold a press event in front of an important public good supported by taxes – parks, libraries, schools, public health care facility, community college, etc. Consider doing something like the “Thank Taxes” campaign done in 2010 by A Better Minnesota.
  • And don’t forget to use your social media tools (blogs, Twitter, and Facebook).