How can it be possible that so many people who claim allegiance to Jesus can be so complacent about the plight of the poor? How can they ignore what Jesus said about loving our neighbor?
Unfortunately, even though the campaign is finally over, the debate about taxes will continue. And in Alabama that debate needs a particular focus.
Recently the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-partisan group based in Washington, published a report revealing a deplorable reality about income taxes in Alabama. According to the center, Alabama’s taxes are higher at the poverty level than any other state in America.
Let me state that again so as to ensure we don’t miss the point here. It’s not just that we tax the poor, but we tax the poor at a higher rate than any other state in the union. A family of four earning $21,203, which is the poverty line, will owe state income tax in the amount of $423. If they moved to Mississippi, they would owe $48.
Of course, it’s not as bad as it used to be. Not that long ago we began taxing families earning as little as $4600. That changed in 2007 when the state legislature raised the amount at which taxes are assessed to $12,600. But what may seem like progress to some in reality remains a gross injustice.
We are not talking about welfare here or some so-called government giveaway. These people work. They are trying to make a living and be productive members of society. And the reward they receive from their state is a regressive tax that only serves to drive them deeper into poverty.
This past spring the Alabama Legislature fell one vote short of passing more tax cuts for the working poor and removing sales tax on groceries. The anti-tax crowd hailed this as a victory. But it is not. When we allow a tax system to exist that willfully punishes those who earn the least, we are guilty of perpetuating an insidious economic injustice.
What makes this all the more amazing is to know how many followers of Jesus live in Alabama. How can it be possible that so many people who claim allegiance to Jesus can be so complacent about the plight of the poor? How can they ignore what Jesus said about loving our neighbor?
It is time and past time to fix this. People of faith and good will all across this state need to be calling on their representatives to put an end to this injustice. If not out of a commitment to biblical principles and the teaching of Jesus, then maybe out of some basic sense of fairness for our fellow citizens.
It’s not fair for the poor to carry the heaviest part of our tax burden. We should adopt a progressive tax code that provides for those who make the least to pay the least. We should be willing to do that as a part of our Christian commitment ”as a statement about what it means to invite Jesus into our lives as Savior and Lord.
For his part, Jesus put it this way: “As you have done it to the least of these members of my family, you have done it to me.”
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.