20101230 tax calculator
A calculator with a tax button represents calculating your taxes. - 

Steve Chiotakis: Educators in Colorado are scrambling after losing a tax vote in that state that would've sent upwards of $3 billion to K-12 schools. Voters rejected the income and sales tax proposition by a near 2-to-1 margin. Cuts in education over the years have taken a toll on schools all across that state.

Joel Slemrod is an economics professor at the University of Michigan, and he's with us now from Ann Arbor. Professor, thanks for being with us.

Joel Slemrod: Sure.

Chiotakis: This vote -- how much does it refelct what the country feels about tax increases? I mean, where you surprised by it?

Slemrod: I'm not surprised. I think it's consistent with what a lot of public opinion polls have been saying, which is that Americans are willing to raise taxes on someone else -- be that high-income households, millionaires, or big corporations -- but they are very weary now of raising taxes on themselves.

Chiotakis: Are people really fed up with taxes or are they programmed to feel that way? I mean, nobody wants to pay more, or pay more out of their paychecks -- things like that. But for services and education?

Slemrod: I think people are feeling like they are stressed financially, and legitimately are weary of raising taxes, which would reduce their disposable income. In a recent poll, almost 80 percent of people said they were against raising taxes on the middle class.

The problem is, as you suggested, about the same percentage are also against reducing Medicare benefits, reducing Social Security benefits -- which for the federal government, of course, is the long-term issue we're going to have to face up to.

Chiotakis: And where do we go from there? I mean, who takes advantage of that?

Slemrod: What I hope happens is that eventually we have an adult conversation about how much government we want, and how much is worth paying for. And to do that -- that adult conversation -- people have to make the connection that over the long-term, we should be able to and want to pay for what government services we get.

Chiotakis: Professor Joel Slemrod, of the University of Michigan. Professor, thanks.

Slemrod: Sure.