Unfair taxes contribute to racism

Opinion: Columns

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By Alan Taylor

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It's time for faith leaders to speak up. A hard but important truth is now clear: white silence about systemic police abuse toward Black people is violence. For too long, many of us have remained silent about pernicious forms of racism. It's high time to examine several deep structural inequities in American society, including the systems of voting and taxation.

While Illinois is a national leader in providing access to voting, our state lags the nation on taxation. Illinois is one of four states that still mandates a flat tax through its constitution. While overt racism seeks to prevent poor (often Brown and Black) people from voting in other states, here in Illinois, racism quietly masquerades as tax fairness. Worse, our state constitution ties the hands of legislators when it comes to revenue, allowing millionaires and billionaires to pay less in taxes as a share of their income than middle- and lower-income families.

A flat tax appears fair on the face of it — everyone pays the same percentage to the state on their declared income. But drill down and look what families pay toward other kinds of taxes. The poor end up paying twice the percentage of their income in taxes — and are struggling just to make ends meet. Here in Illinois, there's a huge gulf between the average Black family's income and the average white family. Black people typically bear a much greater tax burden relative to their means than their white peers.

This November, citizens of Illinois can right this wrong. At the top of the ballot is a Constitutional amendment to allow our elected legislators to set a more just taxation system.

I'm sure some people will accuse me, as a minister, of being partisan. But taxation is not a partisan issue, just as access to voting is not. These are moral issues. Budgets and taxes shape the power structures in our society, and our democracy gives us the opportunity to voice our values and what we believe is right. You may call me political, but I call it faithfulness to conscience.

Silence about moral issues contributes to oppression. To stay silent is to support the status quo. Silence implicitly expresses satisfaction with the way things stand today. Most houses of worship take a position with their silence — and that silence harms the most vulnerable.

At present, schools in poorer communities aren't funded adequately. Lack of state revenues led to drastic cuts in education, higher education, and human services. Increased tuition and fees have impacted students of color disproportionately. It's time to create ways to invest in all our young people. A fair, progressive tax is an obvious step that will lead to more equity and fairness.

I call upon faith leaders, houses of worship, and people of conscience to join me in publicly affirming the referendum on a fair tax. It's a religious witness to call out the racism promoted by our wider culture and society. 

None of us have the right to remain silent.

Rev. Alan Taylor is senior minister of the Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

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Nick A Binotti  

Posted: July 9th, 2020 4:55 PM

Michael - When the state first enacted an income tax in 1970, the personal exemption was $1,000. It's only $2,275 today. If it were indexed to inflation (other states index their deductions) from the start, it would be $6,600 today. Just demonstrates the danger of the lack of inflation protection, which the fair tax does not remedy.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: July 9th, 2020 2:35 PM

Ms Lopez, thanks. My fear is that this referendum passes and, like all of the previous tax hikes, it will soon be determined to be insufficient. We will then have lather, rinse, repeat. We the people only have leverage on this issue by voting NO. Pritzker, Madigan and Harmon will then be forced to turn to their friends and say "hey we tried!" They would, in my Shangri-La world, start looking at the spending. If they win in November...........I'm glad that I'm 60, but my children are 29 and 26 and that's a whole different story/concern. I truly do weep for them and their peers. "Magic Money" does not exist on this planet and every time it's been tried - very bad things for that nation followed. Always - no exceptions.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: July 9th, 2020 1:57 PM

No Rev. Taylor. I think you really mean that we "all have an obligation" to speak up. In fact if you bothered to read the First - one of our country's foundational bedrock principles - you would realize (as previously pointed out by Mr. Dwyer) - in fact all of us, if we so chose, have a RIGHT to remain silent.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: July 9th, 2020 1:39 PM

Well said Michael. Thank you for doing the math and adding the link to demonstrate your point. Springfield could use a refresher course in mathematics.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: July 9th, 2020 1:10 PM

Just my two cents worth, but long ago I had given up taking politicians seriously on this particular issue (taxation and "fairness"). Why? I had a simple solution and since it was "simple" - they knew about it, too. What? FAIRNESS could be immediately obtained for IL taxpayers by raising the standard deduction to at least $10,000. Period. I knew too many "struggling" people who made in between 10,000 and 15,000.....and paid little/no Fed taxes but hundreds to IL. Those "hundreds" for these people were a lot of money for them. I just went to the site from Pritzker and found that the total "savings" for someone making $15,000 per year (0/1 dependent) is $20 - while still paying hundreds. Here's the site: https://www2.illinois.gov/sites/gov/fairtax/Pages/default.aspx. I'm voting NO because the Pritzker proposal is simply a grab for more money and provides, basically, zero savings for people struggling. The slow dying of IL (rated by state debt, people leaving, already having one of the highest tax burdens in the country) will continue until the other side of the budget equation (spending) is also addressed - like adults (I'm not holding my breath).

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: July 9th, 2020 9:27 AM

Setting aside where I may agree or disagree with Rev. Taylor on this issue, I find his declaration that "None of us have the right to remain silent," disturbing. The fact is, ALL of us have the right to remain silent, if we so choose. Free speech is a right, and not an obligation, no matter how strongly you may feel about an issue, Reverend Taylor.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: July 9th, 2020 8:57 AM

@ Mr. Woodson. Since your facebook cover picture is a group shot of AFSCME, this comes as no surprise. I see you appeal your property taxes every year as well, instead of every 3. Clearly, you don't enjoy paying the tax man Mr. Woodson as much as the rest of us. That makes you a hypocrite!! You and all your union friends who think our taxes aren't fair are free to write checks to the Illinois Dept. of Revenue. Nobody is stopping you. Please set the example for the rest of us.

Doug Woodson from Oak Park  

Posted: July 8th, 2020 7:55 PM

Kudos to the pastor for speaking up on this issue of fundamental fairness I notice those opposed to his arguments have chosen ad hominem attacks on him and the governor instead of rebutting his arguments.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: July 4th, 2020 10:56 AM

Or, NIck, he could have been more than half way to the $100 million he and his wife donated to Northwestern University in 2015. How's THAT for- how did you put it? - oh, yeah... obscene.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: July 4th, 2020 9:27 AM

Last night, Gov Pritzker contributed the obscene sum of $51 million to his Fair Tax campaign. Putting that amount of money in a context relevant to this op-ed, he could have renovated Reverend Taylor's Unity Temple...twice. Remind me again which side is the uber-wealthy and powerful?

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: July 2nd, 2020 8:22 PM

The most significant problem with the Amendment as written is that it is not indexed to any measure of inflation. There will be automatic "bracket creep" and that is deliberate. It's a Trojan Horse for higher spending as it now stands.

Kitty Conklin from Cincinnati  

Posted: July 2nd, 2020 8:16 PM

Oh, the individual people/members in LWV can support who they wish. The organization LWV is SUPPOSED to be non-partisan according to their website.

Kitty Conklin from Cincinnati  

Posted: July 2nd, 2020 8:14 PM

I did Neal Buer!

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: July 2nd, 2020 4:28 PM

If what Neal B says is true (and why wouldn't it be?) that all or most of the women who are so dedicated to democracy in the LoWV that they routinely dedicate their personal time to monitoring government meetings, and working to get potential elected officials on the record about what they believe and intend to do in office- if those types of true patriots mostly support Bernie Sanders, then this Biden supporter says kudos to Sanders. Maybe if more people weren't so clueless as regards what Trump has always been about, we wouldn't be the gawdawful mess we are today.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: July 2nd, 2020 2:58 PM

Kitty - Did you move? Also, every member of the League of Women Voters I know are Bernie Sanders supporters.

Kitty Conklin from cincinnati  

Posted: July 2nd, 2020 9:44 AM

Teresa Powell, the League of Women's Voters is SUPPOSED to be non-partisan. Why is the local chapter taking a stance on any issue? Mr. Taylor is more than welcome to start contributing his congregation's funds to help out the state.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 2nd, 2020 8:30 AM

If churches want to enter politics, great, let's start taxing them. People of conscience realize that is a great way to raise revenues and be truly fair. Oh, and that includes housing that the church owns and pastors live in, tax free.

Jack Davidson  

Posted: July 1st, 2020 5:28 PM

The author's decision to draw a parallel of a voters' choice to decide for themselves if this tax is truly progressive (it's not) and vote against the tax come November as a 'pernicious form of racism' (quite the opposite, in fact), is shameful. Maybe Unity Temple can start paying their share of property tax?

Nick Polido  

Posted: July 1st, 2020 12:49 PM

Ms. Powell forgets to mention the support of all public unions in our state. Make no mistake this referendums only purpose is to unburden our politicians in the future to raise taxes without current constraints of the Illinois Constitution. How about referendums on pension reform, term limits and gerrymandering?

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: July 1st, 2020 12:21 PM

I have heard the the problem of the fair tax are the monetary guidleines aren't set, and therefore the tax threshold can be adjusted read that to be lowered at will by those in office. Jay Leno and I share a classic car affinity. Jay Leno buys buildings to store his cars, pays real estate taxes, sales taxes on purchases on the buildings he owns , pays people to maintain his fleet.Maybe we shouldn't tax the rich if they reinvest their money into jobs and businesses that will put people to work. I wouldn't mind working for Jay Leno on his passion.

Josh Vanderberg  

Posted: July 1st, 2020 12:00 PM

Sadly the 'Fair' Tax will result in an increase in total tax burden without addressing any of the issues it is meant to address. Like previous tax increases it will be consumed, whole, by pension obligations. I wish that the progressive income tax had been accompanied by property tax caps and pension reform. The first to ensure that funding is shifted from regressive tax sources to progressive, the second to ensure that the money goes to those who most need it. That would have been actually, well, progressive.

Teresa Powell  

Posted: July 1st, 2020 11:41 AM

97% of Illinois families would pay the same amount or lower taxes with a Fair Tax. Only the richest 3% would pay a bit more, and only on net income over $250,000. The small but powerful anti-Fair Tax group is already out in force to try to discredit the arguments for this vital referendum change to our constitution. Do your own research and find out who is supporting the Fair Tax. These include the League of a Women Voters, the Sierra Club and AARP and a broad range of other reputable groups working for a better Illinois. Wikipedia has an unbiased report and there will be many local information sessions in coming months to learn more.

Nick Polido  

Posted: July 1st, 2020 6:35 AM

No surprise here, linking this referendum to all social ills in our state, well done Pastor....

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: June 30th, 2020 10:47 PM

Pastor Taylor, Is there anything stopping you or anyone else from taking the moral high ground and simply writing a check for what you perceive to be your "fair share" of taxes? No, there isn't. If you and all your "fair tax" friends feel taxes are too low, then please demonstrate to the rest of us heathens how righteous and Godly you are and just pay more than the state mandates. It's rather simple. If you want more funding for education, you should probably have a discussion with our elected officials who rather enjoy sinking millions into TIFS to fund their pet projects of their millionaire friends instead of education. Or you could ask the same neo liberals why they promised the lottery money was going to pay for education and it hasn't. Do you actually believe the same politicians that have been disingenuous with you for decades are suddenly going to raise taxes and do something socially worthwhile? Instead of demanding more of tax payers Pastor Taylor, you should be more like Jesus and turn over the tables in the den of thieves down in Springfield. Lastly, as a Christian, why on earth do you feel it's the role of government to repair societal ills. Jesus never commanded us to tithe to Rome, so Rome could feed the poor. He never commanded us to tithe to Caesar, so Caesar could shelter the homeless. That is our role as Christians, not of any elected official.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: June 30th, 2020 10:20 PM

So much misinformation and half-truths here, it's hard where to begin. Unlike the federal government and vast majority of states, the "fair" tax penalizes working family dual-income households (no married tax brackets for them) and has no protection against inflation. Furthermore, the fair tax does absolutely zilch to address the real tax burden for low income workers which, ironically, isn't income tax, but sales and property taxes (read: high rent). Normally, I'd let this slide as there's a lot of moving parts to tax policy. But this condescending call on "people of conscience", casting a morality judgment on those who would might otherwise vote no on a flawed tax policy, are the words of a charlatan and something *my* conscience cannot allow.

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