Friday, April 1, 2011

We Just Have to Know What We Want

I just did a “Talking About Taxes” workshop for the staff of a very large social service agency.  Of the 50 people in attendance, almost 3/4ths were under 35.  They were enthusiastic and interested in all aspects of the discussion and raised many good questions and comments.  But what struck me most was something one person said to me after the workshop, “Now I realize what we have to do:  put forward a vision of what we want and tell the policy people to create policies that will make it happen.  We don’t need to understand every little detail about taxes and tax policy:  we just have to know what we want.” 

What people seemed most struck by is the notion that taxes are a mirror of community values.  Some economists have said they can tell what the quality of public schools are going to be, what kind of arts and culture a community will have, and about how many poor people will live in a place just by looking at the tax code. 

“We just have to know what we want.”  Sounds simple, but it is hard.  However, as we move closer to Tax Day, I see more and more clearly that in not knowing what we want, and not standing up for what we want, we get what we have.  And I think most of us are pretty clear that what we have is not what we want. 

Let’s get busy imagining something else, and creating a structure to make it happen.   In honor of Tax Day, we will be featuring posts over the next six weeks that explore what it is that we want and the implication of taxes and tax policy on nonprofits, communities, and the values we want to reflect.   We will also be highlighting some of the work that other groups are doing on this issue as well.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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