contributed by NWFCO When final election results roll in, Washington state’s latest anti-tax ballot initiative probably will squeak to victory. Passions may have cooled in recent years when it comes to the “taxpayer revolt,” but it is clear that anti-tax campaigns still resonate in our political culture. As a main character, we’ve got the wasteful government, throwing money away on excesses like other people’s public transportation and libraries. After all, we should pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps – lay tar on our own streets, douse the flames on our own houses, and so forth. Playing the role of hero and victim, there’s the “taxpayer.” Anti-tax crusaders don’t narrow the scope of the term – say, by adding the word white in front of it – but, then again, they don’t have to. “Taxpayer” has a solid history as racial code, playing positive to the negative of the irresolute. President Reagan named that villain famously when he spoke of welfare queens who live off the taxpayers. The welfare queen is still with us, occupying the background of our conversations about personal responsibility. She’s also in the immigration debate when immigrant rights advocates speak of “hard-working, taxpaying immigrants.” They want white Americans to know that immigrants are different – not who they think often believe people of color to be. It’s a connection that Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg made explicitly when he offered this up in an October memo:
Just as many workers with moderate incomes, uncertain employment and health insurance could not understand why they were being taxed to subsidize the long-term idleness of those on welfare, many Americans are just perplexed that this country has lost control of its borders and winks at illegal employment, taxing the resources of local schools and hospitals and much more.
Got economic inequities? Keep on tagging the most disenfranchised among us. After all, exploitation can be so…taxing. But maybe we shouldn’t shy away from the word “responsibility” when we talk about taxes. Not the by-your-own-bootstraps responsibility that absolves us of any commitment to each other, but the kind that reminds us that those obligations are the most important commitments we bear. Julie Chinitz, Northwest Federation of Community Organizations(NWFCO) Research Associate