Tax Fairness Is a Family Value – and a Civic Virtue

BLOOMBERG U.S. Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service 1040 Individual Income Tax forms for the 2010 tax year. Consider … Continued

BLOOMBERG

U.S. Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service 1040 Individual Income Tax forms for the 2010 tax year.

Consider our scariest scenarios: We are accosted and in great physical danger. Our home is aflame and the doors are blocked. We suffer a severe injury and require life-saving medical care.

These nightmares are all too real, and have occurred to people you and I know.

Fortunately, a civil society’s emergency services are available and delivered to everyone. Police officers, firefighters and ambulance responders save our lives every day, regardless of our income level. Other vital services also reach one and all – for example, education, roads, water and sewage.

None of these critical services, however, come free. While no one writes checks to a police officer for her heroic acts, to a teacher for the wisdom he imparts or to the parks department for the sips we take from playground water fountains, we all know that we pay for each service through our taxes.

The only way to ensure continued, equitable delivery of these services is to level the taxation playing field. Fair taxation means that we all benefit. Without implementing fair taxation for all Americans, future budget cuts that federal, state and municipal governments make will continue affecting lower-income residents adversely and disproportionately. Eventually, those who can afford to be saved from burning buildings will write their checks afterwards; those who can’t, won’t – and the service may be withheld.

Fiscally and morally, fair taxation is the right thing to do. Fair taxation is a value – an action – the United States must implement to assist people struggling right now to provide for their families, let alone reach the middle class. Fair taxation will enable society’s most essential services to function uninterrupted.

This is a unifying parochial issue as much as a national one. Our Jewish teachings and tradition demand that we provide food for hungry people, clothing for the naked and shelter for the homeless. Judaism believes that we must act as individuals to lessen the load of others – but also that we act communally. Every Jewish neighborhood in the world has for centuries taken this tradition to heart by building hospitals and soup kitchens – and social-service offices, free-loan societies, even free-burial societies – for our most vulnerable people.

Bend the Arc, the organization I lead, empowers progressive Jewish Americans to be advocates – and the leading voices in our communities – for the nation’s most vulnerable people. We have launched a petition drive calling for tax fairness, beginning with this campaign: urging the president and Congress to phase out Bush-era tax cuts that benefit only those earning $250,000 annually.

GETTY IMAGES

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 17: Protesters dressed in baseball uniforms calling themselves “The Tax Dodgers” participate in a tax day demonstration in front of the James A. Farley Post Office on April 17, 2012 in New York City. Dozens of protesters participated in a demonstration against loopholes that allow banks and corporations to pay lower income taxes than most individual tax filers. Similar rallies were held across the city throuhgout the day. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

One of our first signatories is Greg Rosenbaum, chief executive officer of Empire Kosher, a leading supplier of kosher poultry products. Rosenbaum expressed to me his pain at the House of Representatives’ recent vote to cut $16 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Insurance Program, which provides food stamps to the neediest Americans.

Rosenbaum is right when he says that the across-the-board tax cuts “froze people in place” because the average family earning nearly $50,000 annually received an $860 reduction, while families earning $1 million received $128,000. Where is the fairness there?

Expiration of the tax cuts alone will save some $829 billion over the next decade – money urgently needed to protect our social safety net, build education and intensify job growth. Morally, this call reflects the Jewish values guiding our lives, while serving the best interests of the United States and of all Americans – especially those in dire need of food, clothing and shelter.

I am calling upon Jewish Americans to join hands with Rosenbaum, me and many others. Stretch beyond denominations and institutions in creating opportunity and justice for all, in exhibiting bold leadership and supporting a robust and progressive political advocacy.

Support for fair taxation would demonstrate such leadership. This would be an important step in assuring that America’s opportunities and responsibilities reach everyone.

Let’s not create a society where essential services become luxuries available only to those who write a check on the spot.


Alan van Capelle is the chief executive officer of Bend the Arc, a Jewish partnership for justice formerly known as Progressive Jewish Alliance and Jewish Funds for Justice.

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