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September 1996

1996 LWVUS Convention Action (Jean Aoki, Suzanne Meisenzahl & Jackie Parnell)
President's Message (Astrid Monson)
Convention Activities (Jean Aoki, Suzanne Meisenzahl & Jackie Parnell)
Growth or Sustainability (Astrid Monson)
Candidates in Focus
Drive-in Registration
Hawaiian Sovereignty Vote Count (Arlene Ellis)
League Testifies on City Camping Facilities
Action Alert
Voter Participation
Orientation Meeting (Grace Furukawa)
Court Monitoring Project
Voter Hotline
Leaguer Elected to Serve on Violence Prevention Board
Leaguer Cindy Spencer "Expert Witness"

President's Message

From its inception the League of Women Voters has been nonpartisan, which means that our members can belong to any political party, but the League, as such, does not endorse or oppose candidates for political office. This doesn't mean, however, that we are impartial on issues or political policies – far from it.

A couple of years ago a Honolulu League member accused me of being behind the times because I wanted our position on city taxation to call for a "progressive" system rather than following the modem trend toward user fees, sales taxes or other "regressive" measures. Incidentally, that was National LWV's position too, but the implication was that I was old-fashioned and out-of-date.

I admit I'm guilty of being a New Deal Democrat. In the 1930's I was greatly influenced by Eleanor Roosevelt, who was actually the one who persuaded her husband that the Government had to act quickly to relieve the suffering of the unemployed, the sick, the aged, the poor. Her stamp is on virtually every policy and law in the New Deal.

I am old enough to remember what it was like in the early years of the 1930's. Unemployment was at 30%. Desperate-looking men were selling apples, at a nickel each, on nearly every street comer. Charitable agencies and churches operated soup kitchens providing at least one meal a day to those who otherwise would have gone hungry.

There was no unemployment compensation for those out of work; no minimum wage laws; no social security insurance system; to take care of the aged and disabled; no Medicare to help the sick; no Medicaid to help the poor; no Federal aids to education to help poor States provide schools for children; no housing programs for the homeless or for families living in overcrowded and dilapidated slums; no public welfare system; no provisions to keep employers from firing "trouble-makers" – employees who tried to organize their fellow workers into unions.

I will never forget one Christmas in the 1930's. I lived in Detroit. A week or two before Christmas Day and without warning, Henry Ford laid off 50,000 automobile workers, mostly immigrants from the South. Private charities couldn't begin to cope with a problem of this magnitude. The City of Detroit – I was working for the City Planning Commission at the time -went to Ford and asked him to contribute a fairly modest sum of cash-I don't remember how much – so that food could be provided to the families affected and other emergency needs could be met. He said a resounding "NO". He was quoted in the press as saying:

"Nobody forced these people' to come to Detroit or to work for me. They came because they want to and because I pay the best wages in the industry. (It was $5.00 a day). If they haven't any savings to depend on, let them go back where they came from. It's not my problem."

If you were out of work, sick, disabled, poor, or just old, you had nowhere to go except your family or whatever private charity you could find. Your family might be no better off than you were, and obviously private charity could not take care of the "Third of a Nation" which was "ill-fed, ill-clothed, and ill-housed." Thousands of the unemployed marched, demonstrated, demanded action. In other countries there were revolutions, and Communists or Fascists took over. We were lucky – our revolution was bloodless, thanks to Eleanor and Franklin.

The whole panoply of Roosevelt's New Deal-Unemployment Compensation, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Public Housing, the Wagner Act, and the rest – were adopted on a bi-partisan basis in the years following 1933. By 1938, with the stimulus of war production, there was growing prosperity. In the mid1940's pent-up post-war demand created a wave of high employment and good wages. We have lived on this wave ever since, with ups and downs, of course.

These programs had to be paid for. Few people remember that the Federal income tax rates used to be much higher than now. The uppermost bracket used to be 90%. These were gradually reduced, reaching a low maximum of 28% under Ronald Reagan. Obviously these programs could not be financed at such low tax rates, and the top bracket – for incomes above $263,750 – is now 39.6%. Our rates are still among the lowest, if not the lowest, of any industrialized nation in the Western world.

Then came the "me" generation. Our increasingly prosperous nation – especially at the top-resented paying these taxes. Currently we have lots of proposals to abandon our present progressive income tax for a flat tax, a national sales tax, a value added tax, and so on. All these are characterized by substitution of a "proportional" tax for the present "progressive" system. In the latter, the rate rises as incomes increase; in the former everybody – poor and rich – pays the same rate. Obviously, a 20% tax-$4,000 – is much harder for a; $20,000-income family to pay than $200,000 is for a million dollar one. That is why such tax systems are called "regressive".

The League of Women Voters has long supported "progressive" taxation. Shrinking Government to the point where we were in the 1930's is unthinkable. Of course we should reduce fraud and abuse. But all the "welfare queens" in the country cost only a small fraction of the $50 billion tax-payers had to pay a couple of years ago to bail out the Savings and Loan institutions. If preferring the New Deal to the Old Deal makes me a political dinosaur, so be it.

Astrid Monson

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