What Would Jesus Do?

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-27-2003
What Would Jesus Do?
18
Tue, 06-10-2003 - 10:19am
Very interesting - from the editorial page of the New York Times! Separation of church and state? Not in Alabama!

What Would Jesus Do? Sock It to Alabama's Corporate Landowners

By ADAM COHEN

MONTGOMERY, Ala.

If the religious right had called up Central Casting last year to fill the part of governor, it could hardly have done better than the teetotaling, Bible-quoting businessman from rural central Alabama who now heads up the state. As a Republican congressman, Bob Riley had a nearly perfect record of opposing any legislation supported by the liberal Americans for Democratic Action.

But Governor Riley has stunned many of his conservative supporters, and enraged the state's powerful farm and timber lobbies, by pushing a tax reform plan through the Alabama Legislature that shifts a significant amount of the state's tax burden from the poor to wealthy individuals and corporations. And he has framed the issue in starkly moral terms, arguing that the current Alabama tax system violates biblical teachings because Christians are prohibited from oppressing the poor.

If Governor Riley's tax plan becomes law — the voters still need to ratify it in September — it will be a major victory for poor people, a rare thing in the current political climate. But win or lose, Alabama's tax-reform crusade is posing a pointed question to the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family and other groups that seek to import Christian values into national policy: If Jesus were active in politics today, wouldn't he be lobbying for the poor?

Alabama's tax system has long been brutally weighted against the least fortunate. The state income tax kicks in for families that earn as little a $4,600, when even Mississippi starts at over $19,000. Alabama also relies heavily on its sales tax, which runs as high as 11 percent and applies even to groceries and infant formula. The upshot is wildly regressive: Alabamians with incomes under $13,000 pay 10.9 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes, while those who make over $229,000 pay just 4.1 percent.

A main reason Alabama's poor pay so much is that large timber companies and megafarms pay so little. The state allows big landowners to value their land using "current use" rules, which significantly lowball its worth. Individuals are allowed to fully deduct the federal income taxes they pay from their state taxes, something few states allow, a boon for those in the top brackets.

Governor Riley's plan, which would bring in $1.2 billion in desperately needed revenue, takes aim at these inequalities. It would raise the income threshold at which families of four start paying taxes to more than $17,000. It would scrap the federal income tax deduction and increase exemptions for dependent children. And it would sharply roll back the current-use exemption, a change that could cost companies like Weyerhaeuser and Boise Cascade, which own hundreds of thousands of acres, millions in taxes. Governor Riley says that money is too tight to lift the sales tax on groceries this time, but that he intends to work for that later.

Church and state are not as separate in Alabama as they are in most places. (The chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court was in federal court last week defending his decision to install a 2.5-ton rendering of the Ten Commandments in the state's main judicial building.) Alabamians are used to hearing their politicians make religious arguments, and Governor Riley thinks he can convince the voters that Christian theology calls for a fairer tax system. "I've spent a lot of time studying the New Testament, and it has three philosophies: love God, love each other, and take care of the least among you," he said. "I don't think anyone can justify putting an income tax on someone who makes $4,600 a year."

The state's progressive voters, including many in the sizable African-American community, have backed tax-law changes like these for years. And reform-minded business leaders, who see such tax changes and improved schools as crucial to the state's economic development, have promised to spend millions of dollars on television ads in support of the September referendum.

But religious groups could provide the margin of victory. Susan Pace Hamill, a University of Alabama tax professor with a theological degree from an evangelical divinity school, caused a stir with a law review article called "An Argument for Tax Reform Based on Judeo-Christian Ethics," which makes an evangelical case for making the tax system fairer. She plans to train speakers this summer to take the theological argument to the grass roots. Kimble Forrister, the state coordinator of Alabama Arise, a coalition that advocates for poor people, expects the 100 church groups that are part of his organization to hold church-basement workshops this summer to get the word out to their congregations.

The Christian Coalition of Alabama has not yet taken a position on the September vote, but it has been speaking out against the plan's tax increases. In an interview yesterday, John Giles, the group's president, had trouble pointing to a biblical passage that directly supported his opposition to new taxes, but he referred to Jesus' statement about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's. The key question, he argued, is, "How much is Caesar's?"

As the Bush administration and the religious right fight to put theology more squarely into public policy discussions, they are going to have to be ready for arguments like the ones coming out of Alabama. Many theologians argue that it is far easier to find support in the Bible for policies that help the poor than for, say, a cut in the dividend tax. If Governor Riley's crusade succeeds this summer, Alabama may offer the nation a model for a new kind of tax system: one where the Devil is not in the details.



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iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Tue, 06-10-2003 - 10:45am
I enjoyed the article, but I have to say that it seems that the tax system in Alabama is way behind the times, where the lower income earners are paying more of the tax burden for the state.

Currently with the Federal tax system, people who make $80,000. per yer or more (including dual income families) make up just over 10% of the wage earners in the country, but these same people are responsible for paying just over 70% of all the Federal income taxes. To me, this is also slightly unbalanced, but in a much different way than Alabama. I personally do not think that the Federal tax system in this country is working too well, but I also do not have any solutions. I have heard people discuss placing a Federal tax on luxury items, or even placing one on everyday products, which may be a good thing, or a bad thing.

The new child credit which people are hopefully going to begin receiving this summer of $400. per child is good, and I am glad that the government decided to include people that do not pay any Federal income tax.

Hopefully Alabama will be able to correct the differences in their state tax system to a more fair method.

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-25-2003
Tue, 06-10-2003 - 11:09am
I think the $400 credit for people who didn't pay any taxes is a bad idea.. hey, I'm probably going get it, but I still think it's a bad idea. It's hard to stimulate the economy by spending more money. A tax cut is supposed to cut everyone's taxes, and *naturally* if you don't pay any, you don't get any cut. That's not a punishment, that's life. A tax cut is not supposed to take money from one person and give it to someone else just because the higher ups think it should be.
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Tue, 06-10-2003 - 1:49pm
Wasn't it called a "Jobs and Stimulus" Bill? If your going to Stimulate consumer spending then you have to give people money to spend. Since the wealthy are most likely to just pocket the refund it makes sense to give money back to the people that will spend it.
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-27-2003
Tue, 06-10-2003 - 2:24pm
I guess I got something different out of this article. I took it as being more about the influence of religion and how, while purporting to be a born again Christian, President Bush is very concerned about the wealthy, and the Governor of Alabama is actually living and practicing his religion. After all, in the New Testament, Jesus preached about taking care of the poor all the time, but never about looking after the interests of the wealthy. I'm more interested in the religious aspect of the whole thing. It also caused me to think about separation of church and state - is this the right way to run things? (I don't have an opinion, just questions)
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Tue, 06-10-2003 - 3:07pm
I agree with you on your post, but I also think that what the government did with the $400. per child rebate that they are giving this year was an act of good faith to include people that do not pay any Federal Income taxes. Afterall, these people if they are employed still do pay the FICA tax, which everyone must pay up until the cap, from dollar one.
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Tue, 06-10-2003 - 3:08pm
Well I disagree with your thoughts that the wealthy will just pocket it, but I do agree that the people in the lower tax brakets are more likely to spend it.

I also think it is a good idea especially if the child credit is then spent on the children to make their lives a little better.

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Tue, 06-10-2003 - 6:54pm
he would be very unhappy.....he would cry watching this world. Seeing Wars whom also his folk fight. He would not be happy hearing horrible things and seeing practicing horrible things like....I'm tired of it

it, so tired, but I should not give up.

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-06-2003
Tue, 06-10-2003 - 10:21pm
Ah, the social security tax -- my pet peeve. To me this really is a regressive tax. I am too lazy to look up the income cap now, but I think it's around $88,000. This means that the person who earns $176,000 pays a social security tax at an effective rate of 1/2 what those making under the cap pay because only 1/2 of his or her income is taxed. I very much enjoy my social security tax paycheck "holidays," but I don't need them.
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Wed, 06-11-2003 - 11:34am
I think I get the meaning of your post, but it seems to be complete jibberish.
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-27-2003
Wed, 06-11-2003 - 11:54am
But what do you think of the governor of Alabama basing his policies (right or wrong) on his religious beliefs? Do you have any question about separation of church and state? Do you think that it's appropriate? Do you think it has a chance of passing into law in that state? Do you think it will influence policies in other states or in the Federal Government?

As for me, since doing good works is very important to me, I like it that he is consistant and I agree with him on Christian principles, but as much as I like it, I wonder what kind of precedent for rule by religious law that this will set if it passes.

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