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"One day in the Jerusalem Temple, Jesus' disciples watched as many rich people put large sums into the treasury. Jesus directed his disciples' attention to a poor widow. She put her offering into the treasury: two small copper coins worth about a penny.

Jesus gave his disciples a context for interpreting what was happening. "Truly I tell you, this poor widow put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

-- Mark 12


Today, our poorest Arkansas taxpayers pay twice as much of their income in Arkansas taxes as our richest taxpayers. If you take into account all taxes an Arkansas resident pays to the state -- income, sales, property, etc. -- the poorest 20 percent of our neighbors pay twice the proportion of their income compared to the wealthiest 5 percent.

But a Legislative Tax Reform proposal unveiled last week wants to give another windfall to the wealthy and make the gap between poor and rich in Arkansas even wider. If they get their way, here's what would happen: 75 percent of the tax cut would go to the 13 percent of Arkansas taxpayers who make more than $80,000, lowering their taxes by about $850 each. Within this group, taxes paid by millionaires would reduce around $85,000 each. The very richest will get about 25 percent of the total tax cut.

The poorest taxpayers (making under $5,000) would gain nothing.

Low-income taxpayers ($5,000 to $20,000) would get a tax cut of about $4 a year.

The middle-half of all taxpayers (income of $20,000 to $80,000) would see their taxes lowered about $75 each. That's about 25 percent of the proposed $192 million tax cut.

That last number is important. If this proposal is adopted, anticipated revenue for the state would drop nearly $200 million dollars. That is money that supports our schools, roads, health care and other state services.

Right now Arkansas has failed to fund so many critical needs, such as universal prekindergarten, the best investment for closing the achievement gap for our children and for raising their future potential.

In the past 30 years, the rich have gotten so much richer and everyone else's income has been pretty flat. The last time so much wealth was so concentrated in so few hands was in the Roaring '20s, right before the Great Depression.

Secular economists and public policy commentators can do a better job than I at pointing out the costs of more trickle-down economics. It is an economic model that doesn't work. But for me, this is a moral question.

How long will we continue to create laws and tax policies that benefit the rich and powerful but ignore or afflict the poor?

I like what Parker Palmer says. "When we forget that politics is about weaving a fabric of compassion and justice on which everyone can depend, the first to suffer are the most vulnerable among us -- our children, our elderly, our mentally ill, our poor and our homeless. As they suffer, so does the integrity of our democracy."

Government is the way we address the needs and opportunities for building a healthy society where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Government organizes the basic infrastructure for education, commerce and travel. And government is the only entity with a capacity to address successfully most problems that create suffering among our most vulnerable neighbors.

Churches and charitable nonprofit groups are wonderful and helpful. My wife and I have given our working life to such work. But there is more suffering and poverty than nonprofit groups can address.

A just and effective society underwrites public networks of dependable compassion and justice. They fund that good work with taxes. And a just taxation system asks those who are better able to pay, to pay a larger proportion.

I am humbled to live in a state where the poor widow pays so much more tax than I. Arkansas can do better.

This so-called "tax reform" proposal is bad, but the timing is good. It's an election year. The rich and powerful will try to pass it. The great majority can say "No!" Ask the candidates. If they support this tax break for the rich, or if they blow smoke, don't vote for them.

Commentary on 08/28/2018

Print Headline: The rich get richer

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