This opinion piece, written by CRCDS President Dr. Marvin A. McMickle, was published in the Rochester, New York Democrat and Chronicle on December 1, 2017:
“On December 1, 2017 a group of faith leaders from across the United States were arrested inside the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC for non-violently protesting the proposed tax bill being forwarded by the Republican members of the U.S. Senate. The president of the National Council of Churches, AME Zion Bishop W. Darin Moore quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said in defense of his opposition to the Vietnam War, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” Moore insists that now is such a time. He stated, “In the face of a tax bill that hurts hardworking people, eliminates a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, cuts programs that undergird the most vulnerable, and robs from future generations by increasing the debt of the nation by $1 trillion, we must lift our voices in prayer and protest.”
Patrick Carolan, Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network (Roman Catholic) stated that a tax policy is not just a political or economic document. “Tax policies are a statement on the moral compass of our nation.” That is why over 2400 interfaith leaders from across the country; Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, and other faith traditions cosigned a letter addressed to Senate leadership decrying the proposed tax plan. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine said, “This bill is an assault on the poor and vulnerable we are sworn to protect.” He reminded the senators of a passage from Isaiah 10 that says, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people.”
The proposed tax bill in its current form is a massive redistribution of wealth. To give tax breaks to large corporations and to the richest 1 percent of the US population, money is being taken from programs and new taxes are being imposed upon middle class families and those already living in economic distress. Imagine a graduate student doing research at a local university in lieu of paying tuition, who would now have to pay taxes on that tuition amount as if it was earned income. Imagine the programs that could be cut by this tax plan: housing support for low-income and single-parent families, transportation assistance, food stamps, interest on home mortgages, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS and NPR), legal services for the poor, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation that requires banks to reinvest some of their profits in the neighborhoods where they do business, Community Development Block Grants that fund neighborhood improvements, and a cut of $800 billion from Medicaid over the next ten years. (CNN data).
These tax cuts for the rich funded by spending cuts from programs that aid the poor would have a direct and immediate impact here in Rochester. Our city is already among the worst in the nation when it comes to child poverty and persons living in extreme poverty. Attempts at improving our housing stock, our infrastructure, our public schools, our health delivery to the poor and uninsured will all be made worse if this tax plan goes into effect. Rochester already suffers from staggering wealth inequality. Standing at the intersection of Goodman and Monroe one can travel south to Pittsford and Penfield and Fairport and places where a tax cut that benefits those already enjoying prosperity might be a welcomed relief. However, traveling north toward downtown and on toward the lake and you will run into communities where cuts in social service programs will have a devastating impact on neighborhoods and families.
James Madison, one of our nation’s founding fathers wrote these words in the Federalist Papers #10 in 1787: “The most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.” Those words provide an ideal focus for viewing this proposed tax plan. To provide tax breaks for their campaign donors, Republicans in the US Senate are prepared to drain funds from the current budget that benefit the poor, and then pass the cost of those tax cuts, $1 trillion, on to our children and grandchildren. Whatever happened to the Republican party with its fiscal hawks who hated budget deficits?
I am a theologian and not an economist, and so I offer this reflection while staying within my own sphere of concern and expertise. Thus, I offer this quote from the Peruvian liberation theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez who says, “An active concern for the poor is not only an obligation for those who feel a political vocation; all Christians must take the Gospel message of justice and equality seriously. Christians cannot forgo their responsibility to say a prophetic word about unjust economic conditions. Poverty poses a major challenge to every Christian conscience and therefore to theology.” This proposed tax bill is immoral and unjust when viewed through the lens of robbing the poor to reward the rich. Silence in the face of this present moment is betrayal!”