Thursday, July 15, 2010

Show Me the Money: Taxes and Values

I am working on a project we have named “Show Me the Money: Changing the Inequalities in California’s Broken Tax Structure.” We have created a two hour workshop with exercises and a PowerPoint that explains the fundamentals of California’s tax structure and shows how powerful the nonprofit community could be in addressing these problems, if we aggregated our power and organized ourselves.

Nationwide, the nonprofit sector is a huge economic driver. We are 10% of the workforce, and almost $1 trillion passes through the sector each year. If we were a single industry, we would be our nation’s largest industry, and if we were a single economy, we would be the world’s 7th largest economy. Yet, most of us feel powerless in the face of constant budget cuts and we don’t imagine what it would be like if our state legislators looked out their windows and said, “Oh, no, the nonprofit lobby is here!”

In our workshops we have learned that many nonprofit staff have very few opinions about taxes. We don’t hate them like the right wing and generally we don’t want to shrink government. But we don’t really know what fair and just tax policy would look like, nor have we seen the need to learn about tax policy, form opinions and seek to influence others.

“Taxes are the dues we pay for membership in a civilized society” said Roosevelt. An economist friend said he could tell almost anything he needed to know about the values of a community by just knowing their tax structure. For example, places with low corporate tax or high sales tax have little commitment to equality and think it is fine to have a lot of impoverished people in their communities. Places with high “sin” tax—that is tax on alcohol and cigarettes may have a greater commitment to public health. Taxes are a mirror of values, and right now they don’t mirror very good values. Here in California they mirror a state that is #1 in number of people in prison and #48 in quality of public schools.

But we can change this, and the first step is education. Learn about the tax structure in your community. Ask yourself how things should be paid for, and what should be available to everyone. Start with something not too emotional, such as dog parks: should they be paid for by taxes? Should they be free to anyone with a dog? How about performing arts? Playgrounds? Move on to public transportation, health care and housing. Form your own opinions and share them with others.

And finally, if you work for a nonprofit, think about how your organization depends on a certain tax structure to even exist. What do you think about that? Let me know.

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1 comment:

Mazarine said...

Go Kim for helping nonprofits organize!

I think taxes are one step, and another is nonprofit worker's unions, so we can't be terminated without cause, so we CAN get cost of living raises, so we DO have the right to kick out bad managers!

I've written a post on nonprofit unions here if you'd like to comment!