Winning Strategies for Tax Fairness During State Budget Crises

The Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative held its fifth annual conference in Austin, TX on May 16-18, 2008. Twenty-two participants from 18 states attended, as well as two national organizations. This year's theme was "Winning Strategies for Tax Fairness during State Budget Crises" - appropriate given the 29 states facing a combined deficit for FY 2009 of $48 billion.

For the first time the conference was organized in full collaboration between UFE staff and the newly elected TFOC steering committee, comprised of five member organizations.

As always, the conference emphasized the importance the TFOC places on organizational networking and strategizing, personal relationship building and capacity development. With five years under our belt, the Collaborative's political identity has become increasingly rooted in the understanding of our interconnection. As such, organizers hold tremendous value in coming together to share strategies, challenges, organizing skills and political experiences.

In addition to the wealth of experience TFOC organizers brought to the conference, we were fortunate to have the additional expertise of Patrick Bressette from Demos,
Kim Klein from the Building Movement Project, and Nesa Chappelle from the National Education Association (NEA).

The conference provided a forum for both strategizing on content and building skills/capacity.

Sessions with a content focus included:
  • Members sharing tax fairness work and identifying common strengths and challenges
  • Working groups crafting campaigns for 5 different progressive tax reforms: combined reporting, sales tax on services, income tax surcharges, eliminating tax expenditures, and preventing TABOR initiatives
  • Effective communication frames for taxes and government (Demos)
  • A presentation on right wing trends in the states

Sessions with a capacity-building focus included:
  • Working groups exploring the degree of democracy, participation, and inclusiveness within TFOC members' own organizations and the networks/coalitions to which they belong
  • TFOC and NEA members identifying opportunities for increased collaboration in state tax fairness work
  • University of the Streets - an innovative forum for dialogue on issues (Kim Klein, Building Movement Project)
  • Fundraising skills and methods (Kim Klein)
  • An internal administrative session during which members revisited and reaffirmed TFOC's founding principles, and discussed and resolved pending matters in our internal operations and shared external work.

At the close of the conference, participants visualized and then drew the kind of world we are working to create. They then wrote down concrete commitments made to each other and themselves during the conference that we hope will help bring them closer to that vision.

Individual evaluations indicated that participants derived considerable benefits from the TFOC conference:

"I'm always a supporter of sharing ideas, best practices to implement at Neighbor to Neighbor. I'm eager to figure out ways for our members to participate in the national coalition as well. I think there's so much more to learn from the groups in the Collaborative and I want to make sure we can create spaces to make it happen now."
Allison Kennedy, Neighbor to Neighbor

"I really enjoyed this conference and learned more about what I can do in my organization to advance our tax fairness work. High level of practical skill building-organizing and campaign planning, fundraising etc."

"I have a greater understanding of TFOC and its utility. There is much potential to strengthen work going on in the states by greater collaboration nationally. I commit to making TFOC part of our organizational mindset."