Tired of hearing politicians' and pundits' lame and divisive arguments about taxes and the economy? Have thoughts and opinions you'd like to get off of your chest? Here are a few examples to get you started.
UFE member and author, Chuck Kelly, is doing his part to keep up the support for a strong estate tax. He recently wrote an op-ed that ran in the Asheville Citizen-Times in North Carolina. You can read it here on his website. He makes a several compelling arguments about why our country needs a robust estate tax.
Another UFE member, Jennifer Ladd, sent a letter to her local paper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, urging Congress to end the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2 percent. She makes a great point – a point that needs to be made more and more.
Chuck and Jennifer are giving members of their communities the information they need to be more informed and active players in the national tax debate. As former Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill, once said, "All politics is local." If you're someone who spends a more time in your community than most of the folks on Capitol Hill, you may have a much better handle on what that means.
Your voice matters, so go for it! Get your thoughts about the estate tax and the Bush tax cuts on paper (or computer), and submit to your local newspapers. You never know how many calls and letters to Congress you might spark. How many hearts and minds you might change. How much of an impact you might have at the policy tables. And, ultimately, how big of a difference you might make, not only for yourself, but also for those in your community, state and country.
The estate tax and all of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy are in the news right now, and will be until Congress takes action. We're working to keep the pressure on our elected officials to end wasteful tax breaks for the wealthy. This isn't an easy fight, so we can use all the help we can get. Speak to your community – write an op-ed or letter to the editor of your local paper today!
If your letter or op-ed gets published, we want to hear about it. We may even feature your piece on our blog. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org with a link to the online version. If your piece doesn't get picked up, don't fret. You can still share with others through online social networks, blogs and comment sections in opposing articles. But, most of all, keep learning, remain hopeful and stay engaged.
Thanks, in advance, for taking action.
Tuesday November 2nd is election day. Make sure that your voice is heard. Get to your polling place and cast your vote. In addition to Congressional elections there are many key local races and critically important ballot initiatives. Citizens for Tax Justice has a good rundown on the basics of tax related ballot initiatives. If you live in California, Colorado, Massachusetts orWashington, click on your state for our take on the tax ballot initiatives in your state.
Image courtesy of Gov Gab.
How the Responsible Wealth project fits within the broader work of UFE
At UFE’s October Board meeting, we had a great discussion about what it’s going to take to build a broad social movement capable of fostering a more widely shared prosperity and a more just economy. We looked at everything from the need for a compelling narrative, a vision for the future, an organized base, an effective means of communication, and more. Part of that discussion came back to who we seek to organize and how, surfacing key questions about how UFE does its work.
One of our Board members, Bill Creighton, used a powerful metaphor that helped put this question, and the work of UFE in context. Imagine a castle that represents the power and privilege our lopsided economic system bestows on a small minority. Those on the inside represent the wealthiest among us, and those on the outside are the families struggling to make ends meet. Much of UFE’s work is focused on organizing and supporting those on the outside of the castle. Our Responsible Wealth project is organizing inside the castle walls.
UFE spends significant resources, through our educational workshops and our Racial Wealth Divide project, to engage low and middle-income households, immigrant communities, communities of color, labor unions, community groups, and others impacted by the vast inequalities created by our economic system. Much of our tax work, especially our Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative, helps support the grassroots infrastructure of organizing groups working for a more progressive tax system at the state and nation levels.
Through all of this work, we aim to build a movement capable of mobilizing and energizing those outside the castle, to march to the edge of the moat and demand an end of the vast inequalities, including the castle itself and its fortified walls that have divided our nation. However, after banging on the castle door for a while, it becomes clear that a few friends on the inside of the castle could radically change the dynamics of this struggle.
Through UFE’s Responsible Wealth project, we organize high-wealth and high-income individuals who share our vision to join us in this struggle. Responsible Wealth members, like the rest of UFE, believe that an economy so radically tilted to the benefit of the very wealthy, is not in the best interest of our nation or the communities where we live. Responsible Wealth members have spoken out in solidarity against extravagant CEO Pay, predatory lending, and tax breaks for wealthy individuals like themselves.
By engaging allies inside the castle, we stand a better chance of achieving our ultimate goal. Instead of endlessly banging on the outside of the castle door, our Responsible Wealth allies can help us to open the door from the inside. By working across class differences, UFE and our Responsible Wealth project are helping to change the debate about what a fair economy looks like. This is part of what makes UFE so unique, and in the end, effective.
- Cuts state property taxes by 20 percent;
- Eliminates the business & occupation tax for 80% of small businesses;
- Establishes an income tax paid by only the wealthiest 1.2% of Washington State taxpayers (individuals earning $200,000+ or couples earning $400,000+ annually), who are currently paying a drastically lower proportion of their income in state & local taxes than low- and middle-income families;
- And, I-1098 would dedicate $2 billion per year for education and health care.
- Stops tax giveaways to large corporations that won’t create a single job in California.
- Does not raise taxes on businesses – it maintains the current rates.
- Prevents $1.3 billion in budget cuts to schools and public safety, and saves thousands of much needed jobs.
- Repeals a backroom deal between Sacramento politicians and big corporate lobbyists.
- Prop. 24 prevents tax giveaways given to California’s largest corporations with no guarantees that a single job would be created or saved in California. Corporations could still send jobs overseas or to other states.
- Prop. 24 ensures everyone is paying their fair share. Tax giveaways to large corporations put an even bigger burden on California families. When big corporations pay less, you and your family pay more.
- The big corporations that are paying to defeat Prop. 24 and get these tax giveaways made over $65 billion in profits last year and are paying their CEOs over $8.5 billion, while at the same time laying off over 100,000 workers.
- Prop. 24 does not raise taxes on businesses as none of these tax breaks have gone into effect. Voting Yes on Prop. 24 will keep taxes for large corporations at their current level.
- Ninety-eight percent of California’s businesses – especially small businesses – would get virtually no benefit from these tax breaks at all. They only benefit about two percent of California’s largest corporations.
- Prop. 24 prevents more than $1.3 billion from being cut from our public schools, colleges, healthcare, public safety and other services.
- Prop. 24 prevents more than half a billion dollars from being cut from public education every year. California public schools have been cut $17 billion over the last two years. 30,000 educators have were laid off, class sizes have increased, education programs like art and music and vocational education eliminated, and college tuition increased more than 30 percent just last year alone, while corporations received $1.3 billion in future tax breaks.
- Voting Yes on Prop. 24 saves more than 25,000 jobs, by preventing the layoffs of teachers, firefighters, police, paramedics, and nurses in every corner of the state.
- Prop. 24 repeals a $1.3 billion backroom deal cut by Sacramento politicians and corporate lobbyists with no public hearings or input. These same corporations make large campaign contributions to these politicians.
- Instead of cutting taxes for California families or small business, the politicians in Sacramento followed their campaign contributions and voted to cut taxes for the largest two percent of corporations in the state.
- Big corporations get these tax giveaways without creating jobs in California, and can keep the money to spend on CEO bonuses just like Wall Street.
- Prop. 24 ensures tax fairness so big corporations have to play by the same rules as the rest of us.
- QUESTION 1 would remove the Massachusetts sales tax on alcohol, resulting in a $110 million loss of funding for drug and alcohol prevention and treatment services. (Read more below)
- QUESTION 2 would take away opportunities for affordable housing across Massachusetts by repealing a key component of the Affordable Housing Law, which would make homeownership and even renting more difficult for a broad range of people, including seniors, working families, veterans, and people with disabilities. (Read more below)
- QUESTION 3 would reduce the state sales tax from 6.25% to 3%, which would eliminate over $2.5 billion that goes to schools, public safety, parks, roads repairs, human services, programs for youth and seniors, and much more. (Read more below)
The following and more on Question 1 are available at www.DontRepealAlcoholTax.com
- With the state facing a serious budget deficit, Massachusetts should not repeal this mainstream tax on an unhealthy product, particularly when the funds are dedicated to public health programs for residents with behavioral health problems. these revenues are dedicated to addiction prevention, treatment and recovery support service critical to 100,000 Massachusetts residents.
- Those who argue that the tax hurts sales at Massachusetts liquor stores have their facts wrong. Massachusetts revenue department officials reported increased alcohol sales in the five months after the tax was applied, and New Hampshire officials say they did not see any evidence of increased alcohol sales to Massachusetts residents.
- Massachusetts has some of the highest rates of alcohol and drug abuse addiction in the country—the last thing we need is to take money away from prevention and treatment services in order to make alcohol cheaper.
- A Department of Public Health study found that Massachusetts has one of the highest rates of teen drinking in the country, with 40% of those ages 12 to 20 using alcohol. Removing this tax would lead to more teen drinking.
- The alcohol tax literally helps saves lives by reducing teen drinking and funding treatment services to help people beat addictions and getting their lives back on track.
- The Affordable Housing Law has been responsible for 80% of the affordable housing created in Massachusetts over the past decade, outside the major cities.
- Approximately 58,000 homes have been created for seniors and working and middle class families. Approximately 40,000 are apartments and 18,000 are homeownership.
- Of these, 29,000 homes are reserved for households below 80% of area median income (approximately $66,000 for a family of four in Greater Boston).
- The Affordable Housing Law has prompted nearly 100 communities to develop affordable housing plans.
- 51 cities and towns have met the 10% affordable housing threshold, more than double the number in 1997 (24). 40 communities are at the 8% or 9% threshold.
Here’s where some of the pain would be felt.
- Public Education. Our public schools and colleges would have to absorb a huge share of the cuts. There would be massive layoffs, bigger class sizes, disruption of programs and a decline in the quality of education in our schools and colleges.
- Health Care. More cuts will hurt already struggling community hospitals, school nursing services, public health initiatives and community health centers.
- Quality of Life. Local aid to cities and towns would be slashed, affecting public safety, parks and recreation, senior services, libraries, road repair and so much more.
- Economy. By causing the sudden layoff of so many teachers, firefighters, police officers, social workers and others while we are still coping with a recession, a cut of this size could halt – or even reverse – the state’s economic recovery.
- Property Taxes. Cities and towns would be forced to raise property taxes and seek overrides simply to maintain basic services.
As the battle in Washington State over ballot initiative 1098 comes to a head this week, the Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative (TFOC) is running an innovative cross-training for its network of state tax fairness groups. This unique program is providing on-the-ground organizing and capacity-building resources for TFOC member Washington Community Action Network (CAN) while providing training in the strategy, messaging, and logistics of running a campaign to staff of TFOC groups.
Brooks Winner, an organizer with Opportunity Maine, is in Washington State this week lending a hand to the campaign. Below, he reports back from his first day in action.
Today was our first day of action and we spent most of the afternoon getting acquainted with the Washington CAN! office and staff. It seems like a really great group of talented and dedicated people. We made phone calls to local media outlets to notify them about a cool action that we're doing tomorrow at a local branch of one of the big evil corporate banks. We will basically be rounding up a group of Washington CAN! members to demand that the bank halt all foreclosures on homes in Washington and nationwide while they get their paperwork situation straightened out. Should be fun.
This evening we helped set up and run a Get Out the Vote Party at a local community center, definitely the highlight of the day. As a young, and relatively inexperienced organizer, it was great to see this type of big community event in action. There was a pretty big crowd and people were excited, engaged and passionate about their community. There was food provided, and live entertainment including the musical stylings of Bob, a homeless man with aspirations of running for a seat in the state legislature, and a special guest performance by the Seattle Raging Grannies! We went over the November 2nd ballot, reviewing the critical races and initiatives; discussed reasons for voting and running for office; and encouraged the group to take action by phone banking, talking to their friends, participating in other Washington CAN! events. It was a wonderful evening.
Lessons from the field for today: Tonight's Get Out the Vote Party was a great example of a well-run event that gets people fired up and excited about making their communities better places to live. It was a little bit thrown together, but the essential pieces were all there. First, the turnout was really solid. Second, and related to the good turnout, the free food and entertainment were key to keeping people happy and engaged. The grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup were a hit and a cheap way to feed lots of people. The Raging Grannies were a great finale, and Bob's musical interludes held the whole event together really nicely.
Finally, the event was a PARTY. It may seem silly to call a community meeting like this a party, but that's what it was. Making these events fun and celebratory is so essential, especially at a time when people are frustrated, scared, and worried about the future. People need to believe that there is reason to be excited, fired up and optimistic right now because so many people in the media, the political world and even their own communities are telling them that the hope is gone. The hope is still alive and tonight's event was evidence of that.
- Would cut over $1 BILLION of local funding for public schools by cutting local property taxes in HALF! The state would be required to replace the lost revenue, but because it doesn’t have the funds, it would have to cut all others state services (e.g., health care, higher education, human services, and public safety) by 60%!
- Would create a new tax on water districts, utilities, and colleges. In order to pay for this new tax, these public service will have to dramatically increase their fees for service – your water bill, electricity bill and college tuition will go up!
- Would effectively halt construction in Colorado by prohibiting the state from borrowing and severely restricting local government borrowing.
- Would drastically cut specific state and local taxes and fees, thereby eliminating $2 billion for Colorado’s schools, roads, bridges, and other critical needs.
By Ajamu Dillahunt & Brian
Originally published in The Black Commentator, Oct. 20, 2010
Some may wonder what the federal estate tax has to do with the struggles of African-Americans and other people of color. By curbing the transfer of unlimited wealth from generation to generation, a strong estate tax is an important tool in closing the racial wealth divide and ensuring every generation, regardless of race and family background, has a fair chance at creating a decent life for themselves.
Communities of color have fought hard and made positive strides in closing the income gap, but we still have a long way to go. African-Americans now earn 62 cents for every dollar of white income. Latinos earn 68 cents. Amidst the Great Recession, the unemployment rate for African-Americans continues to hold above 15% compared to an unemployment rate of under 9% for whites. Poverty rates also vary widely.
Dismal as these numbers are, the disparities of real net wealth are even more shocking. African-Americans have only 10 cents of net wealth for every dollar of white net wealth. Latinos have 12 cents. The gap widens at the top where whites are 34 times as likely than African-Americans to have enough wealth – $3.5 million or more – to pay the federal estate tax under 2009 law. While the vast majority of whites have nowhere near enough wealth to pay the estate tax, those that do are part of a very white club.
It’s fairly clear why wealth disparities are so much greater than disparities of income. Unlike income, wealth transfers from generation to generation. As a result, when we look at wealth disparities, we’re not only looking at the injustices and inequalities of today, but we’re also looking at the injustices and inequalities of previous generations carried forward with interest.
Much of the wealth held in white communities is wealth that was accumulated over several generations, including periods of time when African-Americans were still owned as slaves, segregated under Jim Crow laws, redlined into poor neighborhoods, or otherwise denied the opportunities that whites have. Though many of these unjust structures and policies are gone, the economic inequalities they helped create are carried forward through the power of inheritance.
In struggles against oppression around the globe, people have long recognized that political liberation is only a part of the struggle. Political liberation must be accompanied by economic liberation and the correcting of past injustices. In nations across the Global South, land redistribution and nationalization were used in the years following colonial rule. When the Civil War came to an end here in America, there was a promise of 40 acres and a mule – a promise that was, of course, not kept. Many advocates continue the struggle for African American Reparations.
African-Americans are not the only communities of color suffering. Native Americans have had their land taken from them, their populations decimated, and worse. Latinos and new immigrants are driven across borders by the structural adjustment policies of the World Bank, that have enriched global corporations while creating massive poverty across Latin America and other developing nations.
Before the end of the year, Congress will be voting on whether or not to make the federal estate tax permanent, and if so, how strong it will be. A strong estate tax is essential to closing the persistent racial wealth divide. It is the only thing curbing the transfer of yesterday’s inequality to the next generation.
While a strong estate tax helps to curb the extreme wealth at the top, we must also fight to ensure that federal funds are used in a way that lifts up struggling communities, especially communities of color. Federal job creation programs should be targeted to communities hardest hit by the Great Recession. Adequate funding must be made available for foreclosure prevention programs and assistance. These are essential ingredients of a public policy program that will enable communities of color, along with working class white allies, to acquire and keep wealth.
Let us not miss the opportunity before us. Congress is coming back into session soon, and near the top of their agenda is action on the expiring Bush tax cuts and the estate tax. We should ensure that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy are ended and that we have the strongest estate tax we can get going forward. The time to act is now.
Ajamu Dillahunt is a board
member of United for a Fair Economy (UFE) and an organizer with the North
Carolina Justice Center. Brian Miller
is executive director of UFE. Dillahunt and Miller are co-authors of UFE’s
State of the Dream 2010 report entitled, “Drained – Jobless and Foreclosed in
Communities of Color.”
In an atmosphere of 24/7 government-bashing and Tea Party cries of shrinking government, too seldom do we acknowledge the successes that we as a nation have accomplished when we take collective action, through our democratic process, to address great and pressing challenges.
As I sat down Sunday morning to read the Boston Globe, there on the front page was a powerful story about the success of the Clean Air Act. The article, entitled “A Clear Water Revival,” told the story of the Clean Air Act passed in 1989, and how it succeeded in dramatically reducing acid rain over the past 20 years since its passage.
In short, we saw a challenge, we took decisive action as one nation, and we turned a bad situation around! There's still more work to do, but it was a clear success. There was a great map on the front of the print edition of the Globe, but I couldn't find it online. I found a comparable map from the EPA which is copied below. It tracks "sulfate deposition" over time, one of the key measures of acid rainfall.
The Clean Air Act is one of the great examples of succesful collective action and government intervention, but it’s not the only one. A similar story has told about how we stopped the hole in the ozone from growing, through both national and international action.
Of course, the successes are not limited to environmental issues. Growing up in South Louisiana, I benefitted from many of the public structures that were created and funded through our tax dollars. One of the most direct reminders I had of this was when I was in college at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette). The heart of the campus was built in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), one of the New Deal job creation programs, with WPA plaques on every building to remind us of this fact.
When my wife and I got married 12 years ago, we did so in Norris Dam State Park, just north of Knoxville, Tennessee. The lodge we held our reception in, and all the cabins we rented for our visiting family, were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), yet another New Deal program that put Americans to work producing lasting public spaces and structures that are still with us today. We stayed in another CCC cabin for our honeymoon in the mountains of Virginia.
Of course, the list goes on with notable public successes like the GI Bill that helped returning veterans buy homes and attend college, the Social Security program that ended the devastating poverty many faced in their senior years, and public research that effectively ended debilitating diseases that once ravaged this nation. Though none of these programs are perfect, and some such as the GI Bill were tainted by the racial injustices of their time, they demonstrate the positive change we can make when we act collectively.
Amidst all these public responses, there has often been a role for market solutions, but that role should be kept in context. In the Boston Globe story, part of the success of the Clean Water Act was attributed to the cap and trade program that allowed market forces to find the most cost effective and efficient way to comply with the new standards. However, the standards and rules were still set through government action. Without that leadership and the high standards we as a people set, market forces would have had little incentive to solve the problem.
Despite all the hype about market solutions to public problems, and the cries for smaller government (coming from Tea Partiers and the like), we cannot afford to abdicate the role of a strong public sector when facing big problems. It is when we act collectively, through a democratic and accountable government, that we are best equipped to solve the big challenges of our time.