Our 32-year allergy to taxes has brought us to this: in 2007, before the economic collapse 37.3 million people lived in poverty, 12.5 percent of our population. If societies are judged by their treatment of the most vulnerable – children, women, the elderly, the mentally or physically disabled – perhaps we’re not that civilized after all. Children, at 24.8 percent of our population, comprised 35.7 percent of the impoverished. Roughly 63 percent of homeless women have experienced domestic violence in their adult life. Veterans, 23 percent of the homeless population, 47 percent from the Viet Nam horror, may question their sacrifice.
California’s 1978 tax revolt, Proposition 13 and Ronald Reagan’s promise to “get government off our backs” ushered in “morning in America” and unrelenting darkness for the poor. Will Bunch’s book, Tear Down this Myth, puts a corrective lens on the misty-eyed nostalgia of that legacy:
His 1981 tax cut was followed quickly by tax hikes that you rarely hear about, and Reagan’s real lasting achievement on that front was slashing marginal rates for the wealthy – even as rising payroll taxes socked the working class. His promise to shrink government was uttered so many time that many acolytes believe it really happened, but in fact Reagan expanded the federal payroll, added a new cabinet post, and created a huge debt that ultimately tripped up his handpicked successor, George H.W. Bush. What he did shrink was government regulation and oversight – linked to a series of unfortunate events from the savings-and-loan crisis of the late 1980s to the sub-prime mortgage crisis of the late 2000s.
Indulging our belief that taxes encourage bloated, ineffective government, we shrunk taxes and funding for social services, and looked away as unions became weak, while well-paying manufacturing jobs fled the country. Declining real wages and rising housing costs now cause 12 million people to pay over 50 percent of their income for housing. Combined, these forces chip away at the structures that support the middle and working classes. Poor families, vulnerable to every storm, such as illness or losing a job, live on the treadmill of choosing to buy food, or medicine, or pay the rent, or buy gas for the car. Struggling to stay afloat leaves scant life energy to nurture, nourish and educate children to become the confident, intelligent, compassionate adults that we desperately need.
The consequences of this stinginess is more bizarre, irrational and even violent behavior. In the wake of the collapse, we helplessly watch neighbors, friends and families slip through the cracks to land on a concrete safety net.
California’s Proposition 13 has put the state in a vise. Did adults pass this legislation?
.. resulted in a cap on property tax rates in the state, reducing them by an average of 57 percent. In addition to lowering property taxes, the initiative also contained language requiring a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses for future increases in all state tax rates or amounts of revenue collected, including income tax rates. It also requires two-thirds vote majority in local elections for local governments wishing to raise special taxes…. Passage of the initiative presaged a “taxpayer revolt” throughout the country that is sometimes thought to have contributed to the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980.
The New Jersey governor announced a budget that remedies it’s nearly $11 billion deficit by cutting spending – laying off 1,300 workers and cutting $820 million in aid to public schools – rather than increasing taxes.
For the country that sent men to the moon, discovered the cure for Polio, and rebuilt Europe after World War II, how did we become tolerant of families, children and veterans being homeless? The corrupting influence of money on politics. Lobbyists spent $3.47 billion in 2009 influencing Congress. Did they represent your interests or big pharma, big agriculture, health insurers and the banking industry? This must be the government that we deserve. Congress, paralyzed and dysfunctional, reflects our culture and our tacit allowance of money to corrupt what was once a somewhat venerable institution. Reining in lobbying will be tantamount to eradicating cockroaches.
The responsibility of living in a democracy is being vigilant and requiring that our fellow citizens have a decent place to live and a fair shot at succeeding in life. Yes, it will require higher taxes. If you love this country, children, and feel gratitude for veterans’ sacrifices, think of it as giving back or paying it forward.
Don’t you want to say lead, follow or get out of the way? Politicians who extend a life line to struggling Americans, will get my vote. That won’t happen until we build it from the ground up and show Washington a better way. That will take time. Until then, we cannot wait for government to fix what is broken, we must create a new model in which we help each other. Communities that support each other will be safer, more vibrant, with better health and education outcomes. In other words, a decent shot at life for children and a dignified existence for everyone, particularly the elderly and veterans.
For more info: New Community Vision is working to spawn a movement to think about our social and housing paradigms in a new context. Community gatherings to address our universal challenges are the fertile soil in which durable solutions take root. Please subscribe to this blog and contact us for more information.