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Unfair taxes contribute to racism

Opinion: Columns

June 30th, 2020 4:20 PM

By Alan Taylor

One View

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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