Taxes

Communicating Effectively about Taxes

At their core, debates about taxes are debates about government – its roles, responsibilities, legitimacy and scope, and of course, the level of revenues necessary to accomplish its many functions. Conversations about taxes often become heated exchanges about who pays taxes and how much they pay. As a result, tax discussions rarely help people see taxes as a necessary part of how we achieved shared goals.

We need to help people see taxes as a means to an end — a necessary part of how we achieve shared goals.

We must:

Move beyond talking about taxes as merely “money” but to focus on their broader purpose as an essential way of supporting for our common good, our communities, and our states

Reset the context and focus on the future

Make a practical case for tax fairness

In all of our efforts, we must avoid reinforcing unproductive default thinking that leads people to see taxes as taken money and a burden on consumers. These ways of thinking are among the typical mental constructs that lead people to disconnect taxes from their purpose and their role in managing our government.

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  • Publications: The Future of the California Dream: Observations on Proposition 30

    In 2012, Public Works watched the campaigns for and against California’s Proposition 30 noting with interest how public communications about this tax proposal reflect what we know about the dominant discourse in this country over taxes and government. We also observed how many of the proponents of Proposition 30 have been working hard to engage their fellow Californians in a thoughtful deliberation about this revenue-raising measure. In the weeks leading up to the vote Public Works conducted an analysis of the debate over Proposition 30, examining the insights it offered for broader efforts to engage the public on questions of taxes and the role of government.



  • Publications: Tax Season 2013 Communications: Blogs and Op-Eds

    This collection of Public Works annotated pieces highlights some of the many good examples we observed from our partners and others putting our tax lessons into action.



  • Publications: Tax Season 2013 Communications: Using Visuals

    We often use the tried and true pie chart that shows how much of state (or federal revenue) is spent on specific kinds of programs. However, with a bit more creativity, we can use visuals to help our audiences see that taxes are more than simply money that pays for programs, but rather investments in our the quality of life we enjoy. This publication includes some examples from the 2013 Tax Season that used visuals to get across their message.



  • Publications: Tip Sheet: Communicating Effectively about Taxes

    Our goal with “Tip Sheet: Communicating Effectively about Taxes” (April 2013) is to articulate the key communications concepts that can help Americans understand that taxes are the way we all support the public structures, systems and services essential to our democracy and our quality of life.



  • Publications: Reclaiming Public Discourse about Taxes: Taking Advantage of Tax Day and Tax Freedom Day

    As Tax Day approaches each year, Americans are working to file their taxes while commentators fill the airwaves with negative opinions about taxes, taxation, and above all, the collector of taxes–government. Advocates for public systems and services—and those who appreciate the role that government plays—need to make their perspectives heard. Changing the national conversation about taxes may be daunting but it’s our job to add our voices to the mix. “Reclaiming Public Discourse about Taxes: Taking Advantage of Tax Day and Tax Freedom Day” (March 2011) will help you do just that.



  • Publications: Tax Day: A Tax Day Thank You

    November 2011 – Public Works annotated this Texans Care for Children blog that attempts to explain what taxes buy in a way that helps the average person see how they benefit. Instead of talking about Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as programs that benefit only certain parts of our population, the blog explains how we could all face circumstances that cause us to rely upon these programs.



  • Publications: Tax Day: Connecting Taxes to their Purposes

    One of the key findings from Public Works’ tax research and field experience is that we need to connect taxes to their purpose. Rather than only talking about the money aspects of taxes (who pays and how much), we need to remind people that taxes pay for important public services that make our quality of life possible. This annotated Tax Day piece (November 2011) is a great example of that lesson in practice.



  • Publications: Making an Effective Case for Taxing Corporations

    This annotated op-ed (November 2011) makes the case that corporations should pay their fair share of taxes. But, it does not repeat often-used arguments about the need for corporations to pay more because they are profitable. Instead, it helps readers see the connection between taxes and their purpose by arguing that corporations should pay their fair share because their success depends upon a thriving public sector. Making this connection between taxes and their purposes is one of the key findings of Public Works’ research and fieldwork.



  • Publications: Making an Effective Case for Taxing Corporations

    This annotated op-ed (November 2011) makes the case that corporations should pay their fair share of taxes. But, it does not repeat often-used arguments about the need for corporations to pay more because they are profitable. Instead, it helps readers see the connection between taxes and their purpose by arguing that corporations should pay their fair share because their success depends upon a thriving public sector. Making this connection between taxes and their purposes is one of the key findings of Public Works’ research and fieldwork.



  • Publications: Public Works Taxes Dos and Donts

    This Public Works one-pager (March 2012) is an easy to follow guide on our top do’s and don’ts when talking about taxes.



  • Research: How to Talk about Budgets and Taxes: A FrameWorks MessageMemo

    In 2009, Public Works sponsored research conducted by FrameWorks into public attitudes around public budget and taxes. This guide outlines the summary of the research findings and key recommendations for changing the conversation.



  • Research: Like Mars to Venus: The Separate and Sketchy Worlds of Budget and Taxes

    “Like Mars to Venus: the Separate and Sketchy Worlds of Budgets and Taxes” (February 2009) gives an overview of research conducted by the FrameWorks Institute and sponsored by Public Works. This research revealed that for many Americans the concepts of budgets and taxes are disconnected from one another and that Americans view both through an individualistic lens.



  • Research: The Era of Better Government

    American attitudes about government are deeply entrenched and enduring. This was the key finding in “The Era of Better Government” ( 2009) which was written by the Topos Partnership for Public Works. Public Works originally commissioned research into Americans’ perceptions of government in 2004-2006. In 2009, the Topos Partnership conducted additional research and found that the primary findings from that 2004-2006 body of research still hold true. Specifically, they found that Americans have an “us vs. them” understanding of government and that their understanding of what government is and does is limited.



  • Research: Talking about Government: A Compilation of Research Reports

    This report is a compendium of the research reports analyzing the findings from the research conducted by the FrameWorks Institute for Public Works to understand how Americans perceive government. Authored by the FrameWorks Institute and members of its research team, these reports explain the findings from each stage of the research project. While the reports in this compilation offer valuable insights, for a more complete understanding of the lessons from this research check out How to Talk about Government: A Summary of Findings at www.publicworks.org.



  • Research: Talking about Government: A Summary of Findings

    Talking about Government: A Summary of Findings is the complete summary of the lessons from this research.



  • Research: Rethinking the Economy?

    In 2008, the real estate market in the United States crumbled, the stock market plunged, and unemployment rose. One thing that didn’t change was Americans’ understanding of government’s role in the economy. At this time, the Topos Partnership was in the middle of a three year collaboration with Public Works to investigate how Americans understand the role of government in the economy. In “Rethinking the Economy?” (November 2009), Topos Partnership explores the impact of the economic downturn on American thinking about the economy.



  • Research: Promoting Broad Prosperity: A Topos Strategy and Research Brief

    “Promoting Broad Prosperity: A Topos Research and Strategy Brief” (October 2009) offers a complete look at research conducted by the Topos Partnership for Public Works that looked at how Americans perceive government’s role in the economy. This research report describes the existing patterns in public understanding that inhibit citizen action, as well as the recommended elements of a framing approach that will build public will and mobilize citizen involvement in economic policy.



  • Presentations and Webinars: Communicating Effectively about Taxes

    Too often, taxes are seen as “taken money.”  We need to reset the context and help Americans remember what taxes are for.   In this presentation, you’ll learn more about Americans’ dominant understanding of taxes and get tips for creating a more productive dialogue about how taxes pay for things we all value in our communities and our states.



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