[Editor’s note: The following column is in response to point/counterpoint columns on the VillageSoup Web site and in The Republican Journal by Reps. Jayne Crosby Giles (“Facts argue for repeal of tax overhaul,” May 12 TRJ) and John Piotti (“You’re offered $1.07 and it costs you 53 cents — do you take it?”, May 19 TRJ) regarding the tax reform bill passed by the Legislature last year and the upcoming people’s veto referendum June 8.]

Dear Jayne and John,

I would like to explain something to you that might stretch your partisan brain cells to their limit, so pay attention.

You can quibble all you want about sales taxes, income taxes, tax credits, deductions, revisions, reductions, refructations and intermoflations. It’s all quite beside the point. Lend me your ears: I come to bury everything you know about taxation, not to praise it.

First, let’s play a little game. Can you name something that is absolutely necessary for the survival, health and productivity of the human species, and whose value is not created by any single individual, but by the community as a whole? If there is such a thing, and someone is taking that value and making a profit from it, does it make sense that it is a thing that should be taxed?

The community as a whole needs money. Every individual cannot finance the maintenance of their portion of the Interstate Highway System. We can’t each pay the salary of a police officer; we need to pay as a community for law enforcement. And so on. Within the mostly gratuitous quibbling over how the government spends our money, there is a certain amount of common ground where we can all agree that public revenue is necessary. But what we tax is important.

What we tax is important. As a matter of fact, it’s the only important thing. Can we really not scratch our heads and come up with the thing that, if taxed, would make our system more healthy? How many people are saying, right now, “I know very well that the system is not working. I don’t know what the solution is, but I don’t hear anything I think can really work.”

Let’s go back to our guessing game: What is that thing that we all need access to in order to live? That thing is valuable only because the community as a whole has created its value, while people who own this thing can collect a lot of profit, just for owning it! They can be sleeping. They can be off in Mallorca or swimming with dolphins, and still profit from it, because we would all rather tax the things we produce, the money we earn, the merchandise we need, rather than consider it.

It’s very simple: it’s land. Not the buildings on it. Not the stuff we produce while working on top of it. Not the wages we earn by producing stuff on top of it. The very ground itself, that thing that we cannot produce any more of. Only one person can own a specific square foot of land, and that person holds the ultimate monopoly. Generally monopolies are frowned upon, even by the biggest, scariest Libertarian. Except for the most obvious and overlooked monopoly of all.

Tax land, not labor. Tax land, not production. Tax land. Don’t tell someone that the more they work, the better they manage, the more they will be penalized by the state. And you, you left-wingers out there shaking your head as you hear me say something that sounds like it’s coming from Fox News: yes, you read me right. Don’t penalize production. Don’t burden those who are, by their work, creating jobs, helping the economy. Tax the value of land, because the community as a whole has already paid for it.

Let’s think about how the community creates land value. This is the crux of my case: the idea that since we all have created the value of everybody’s land, that is the thing from which we need to collect public revenue. Think about the Interstate Highway System. They decide where an exit will be located. You exit the highway and there is a Dysart’s there. They do a good business at that Dysart’s, but why? Because the tax dollars that built that exit created the value of that land. (Sorry, Dysart’s. I’m not singling you out; really, I want to make things better for you, too.)

Remember that commercial for the Re-Max real estate company where the pregnant woman is running after the school bus, yelling something like, “What is your teacher-student ratio?” She wants to know what the schools are like before she buys a house in your community. Publicly funded services affect real estate value; the quality of a school system affects it more than most other services.

The federal government supports Acadia National Park, the state creates very good roads and a very nice new bridge leading there, so that people can have easy access to a wonderful park experience. (How much is a house in Acadia? Why does that house have value? Because it’s gorgeous. Take that same gorgeous house and put it in interior Waldo County and it still has value — but not nearly as much.)

If you have a piece of land with a restaurant on it on Cottage Street in Bar Harbor you will do well, because you are a good business person, and because thousands and thousands of people will travel on those roads to that very nice park. Right next to that restaurant is a derelict building owned by someone who doesn’t want or can’t afford to build on the site right now, but is holding onto it, hoping to cash in on it later when values rise. So the potential camping equipment or souvenir store that could be employing people is not there, and that makes our town less prosperous.

Unfair? Very much so. The system that allows that landlord to hold that property out of use cripples our ability to help ourselves. So someone who does want to start a business that employs people and makes him a profit will have to go further from the center of that city, or further from that nice big road and pretty park, where land values are less. They call this sprawl. Now you know why sprawl exists, and how we can stop it: Tax the value of land.

Tax only the value of land. Keep every penny of what you produce on that land, including the buildings. Will this hurt our restaurant owner? Far from it. Land value taxation simply collects public revenue in a way that penalizes no one but the land hoarder, and benefits everyone, including land owners who use their land productively.

So, Jayne and John, and all of you out there who fancy you have the answers: did you get all that? You might say there are some details to fill in, but for every objection you think of there are clarifications and answers. If this intrigues you, read up on it. If you think you can prove me wrong, bring it on. It is simply the best, fairest way to help ourselves. Embrace it and be among those who really do have the solution.

Lisa Cooley is a resident of Jackson. For more information on land-value taxation, she encourages people to visit henrygeorge.org. To contact her directly, e-mail her at: lisafromjackson@yahoo.com.