December 1996 Home   Newsletters

January 1997

February 1997

President's Message (Astrid Monson)
League Testifies on Proposed Tax Changes (Astrid Monson)
December General Membership Planning Meeting (Jean Aoki & Astrid Monson)
Member Alert
This Land Was Your Land (Donella Meadows)
In Memoriam
Sexual Harassment (Ina Percival)
Vote Count (Arlene Ellis)
Domestic Violence and Welfare (Suzanne Meisenzahl)
Planning & Zoning Committee Needs More Members (Astrid Monson)
Orientation Meeting (Grace Furukawa)

President's Message

I have lived through two World Wars, the "great depression" and a number of "recessions", through hurricanes and floods and earthquakes, but I was never afraid for our country till now.

My parents came to this country in 1914 and thought it was the greatest in the world. They kept telling me how lucky I was to be brought up here instead of in Communist Russia. I can still remember my father telling me what a privilege it was for him to be able to pay his U.S. taxes, that he could never pay America back for all it had given him.

In the 1929-35 depression everybody we knew was poor, and we all had to take care of each other. The national unemployment rate was 30%. All this was before the Roosevelt New Deal, there was no unemployment insurance, no welfare, no Medicaid, no Social Security, no anything. I can remember putting up various unemployed and/or homeless friends, feeding six or eight of them on occasion, and helping out in the usual financial emergencies.

The point is that everybody else was doing the same. Those who had some money expected to share it with those who didn't. This was the only way we could survive. But many people had no one to help them and private charities couldn't take care of everybody. As our incomes increased in the '40's and the '50's, our taxes went up, partly to pay the costs of the various New Deal agencies that helped people who were out of work, sick, aged, homeless or merely in temporary trouble. Even though we knew that a relatively small proportion of these did abuse the system, it never occurred to us to complain. We knew we were the lucky ones who had good jobs.

All this changed, however, during the Reagan years. Most people got prosperous. The "me" generation flourished. It was taught to look out for "number one" and that if someone else was having trouble, it was his own fault. "Anyone who really wants a job can find one". "Why should I be taxed to support those lazy bums – I work for my money." "What business do they have producing all those children if they can't take care of them?" And so on.

Increasingly, the relatively well-to-do resented having to pay taxes. Though the rates were sharply decreased from earlier years – the top bracket used to be 90% – and incomes continued to increase,. more and more people demanded lower taxes and made their political decisions on the basis of who offered them the best tax deal. The corporate tax was cut way back, with a loss of billions to the U.S. Treasury every year.

We all know the results. The national debt soared. Roads, bridges, and other basic infrastructure deteriorated. Low-income public housing was no longer built. The "welfare state" became increasingly unpopular. We were less and less willing to worry about the problems of disadvantaged children, women, minorities, and the aged, and the sick. The rich grew richer, the poor poorer, but not many cared.

This is what frightens me. We do not know what the effects of various "reforms" recently adopted by Congress will actually be, but we seem willing to take the chance. We are told that we are merely experimenting, that if they don't work out or too much suffering results, they can be modified. How much is too much? We are told that the States and cities are better able to handle these problems than Washington – forgetting that the Federal programs were set up in the first place because the States couldn't or wouldn't do so.

Meanwhile – even before the full impact of the new legislation and the tax cuts it was designed to make possible are felt – millions more people are becoming homeless, hungry, sick and desperate. Disabled children in poor families will no longer get special help. Almost every day newspapers, magazines, and TV tell us of another program cut, another group of people let fall through the safety net. Without drug treatment, crime will increase. With inadequate education, unemployment will grow. Without medical care, the sick will get sicker. Our children will have more taxes to pay, not less.

On November 25, an Advertiser editorial called the "new federal welfare reform" measures penny-wise and pound-foolish. Referring to the exclusion of convicted drug addicts from substanceabuse treatment facilities, the editorial points out that "for every dollar we might have spent on treatment, we can expect them to cost us $7 connected with crime, drug abuse, emergency room visits and the like".

Three days later the Advertiser carried two major front-page stories – one, "Charities Plead Case for Government Aid – Private Help Can't Keep Up" and the other, "Hawaii Groups Try to Fill Funding Gap." Both discussed the added burden on private charities which Federal cut-backs in aid are producing, while at the same time many tax programs are not allowed tax deductions for charitable gifts. "Without a tax deduction, givers – especially the affluent who are responsible for 80% of all contributions – will donate less," it was stated.

Thus we are breaking the "social contract" – the implied agreement that the entire community is responsible for the least of us, that we will all look out for each other's welfare, that not only the successful and the well-to-do are entitled to enjoy the American dream. If we continue to become an increasingly fractured society, with the growing gulf between the upper class and the "under-class", and if we no longer care about the less fortunate, in time we will pay the social and political price in civil unrest. In the 1930's thousands of desperate people took to the streets. In Europe, Communists and Fascist mobs took over the governments.

We always thought it couldn't happen here, but it can. It doesn't need to. We can stop "corporate welfare" and require that out huge corporations - even international enterprises pay their fair share, as they used to. We can restructure our tax system to take care of what is needed. Last month League presented testimony to the State Tax Review Commission, with suggestions for raising additional revenue while making our tax structure less regressive. (Excerpts will be found elsewhere in this Voter.) League can play a part in averting the consequences of the direction we are going.

Astrid Monson

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