Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama is a Bible-quoting, tee-totaling, Republican businessman who as a congressman represented a mostly rural district.
Prior to his run for the governorship, he distinguished himself as a staunch conservative who consistently voted against any type of liberal legislation. Yet, as governor, he proposed a new tax plan which would have shifted the tax burden from the poor to the wealthy.
Why? Riley believed that the Alabama tax system violated biblical principles which prohibit Christians from oppressing the poor.
Alabama’s tax system is highly regressive, starting on family incomes as low as $4,600 (neighboring Mississippi starts at over $19,000), and relies on a sales tax which is as high as 11 percent–even on groceries and infant formula.
While Alabamians with income under $13,000 pay about 10.9 percent of their income on taxes, those who make over $229,000 pay just 4.1 percent.
Those who benefit most from this arrangement are the state’s large timber companies and mega farms, whose powerful lobby groups helped maintain the status quo.
Gov. Riley’s tax plan was eventually voted down during the September 2003 election, still, was it a Christian stance to take? What about John Giles of the Christian Coalition of Alabama who spoke out against the plan?
Both Riley and Giles claimed the Bible as the authority for their political stance. The question for us to ponder is which one was correct. And the larger question to consider is what moral obligations Christians have toward our present federal tax policies.
If faith without works is dead, then the works of our government should be an indication of its faith, or lack thereof. Our federal tax policies clearly indicate that the faith of our present administration is not in God, but rather in helping a small segment of wealthy Americans through a reverse Robin Hood mentality.
This past Friday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office confirmed the obvious. In the last three years, since President Bush took office, a full one third of all his tax cuts went to the top 1 percent of wealthiest Americans–those who averaged $1.2 million annually. These individuals will receive a tax cut of about $78,460 this year.
Compare this to the middle 20 percent of income earners, whose average yearly income is about $57,000. They can expect to receive a tax cut of approximately $1,090.
The Congressional Budget Office also reported that two thirds of the benefits from Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts went to the top 20 percent of wealthiest Americans, those with an average income of $203,740 a year.
The math is clear–Bush’s tax cuts are heavily skewed toward the very wealthy. Why then should we be surprised that the federal surplus, which existed when Bush took office, is now running a $100 billion deficit and is expected to exceed $400 billion in 2004. But even now if the Bush tax cuts were to be rolled back on those with income over $200,000 a year, an estimated $860 billion could be saved over the next 10 years.
How then do Bush’s tax cuts translate into deeds? According to a May 19 memo circulated by his own Office of Management and Budget, his departments were instructed to begin trimming domestic discretionary spending in 2006, the first complete fiscal year after November’s election.
This trimming is estimated to mean $925 million less for Head Start and childhood education–so much for No Child Left Behind initiatives.
College financial aid, specifically Pell Grants, will see a $550 million hit–just what we need when more and more low-income students are being forced to drop out of college because of the rising cost of a higher education.
Veterans’ medical care needs can expect a $1.5 billion cut (not including the $380 million already scheduled for 2005). Instead of sticking bumper-stickers on our cars stating “Support our Troops,” lets do something tangible, like making sure they have the necessary funds to provide medical treatments for the wounds sustained fighting Bush’s war, rather than providing more money to the top 1 percent of wealthiest Americans.
Under miscellaneous, you can expect $21 billion in cuts for environmental protection, housing programs and nutrition aid for poor pregnant women and children.
Many Christians insist that they should vote according to the moral dictates of the Bible. And frankly, I agree.
Yet these same Christians, more often than not, support the legal thievery occurring within the federal government in the form of tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle-class–a process which is bankrupting the future of our children and grandchildren.
What I fail to understand is why good church-going people refuse to deal with such a scandal.
Miguel De La Torre, a Cuban American, is professor of theologies of liberation at Hope College in Holland, Mich. He is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former Baptist pastor in Kentucky. His column also appears in the Holland Sentinel.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.