Starfish, Lotteries and Taxes


The Alabama Senate is considering a bill that will, among other things, remove the state portion of tax on food. I'm hopeful the bill will pass and have encouraged others to do what I have done--call their senator to encourage support for the bill.

If the bill does pass it will mark a significant point of progress for Alabama, a "point of light" that should encourage us to continue to work for such change. That work will need to continue right away, because the bill is in the form of a constitutional amendment, requiring a vote of the people. Many will need to be convinced that this really is in their best interest, ignoring the inevitable fear-inducing cry from opponents that accompanies all such campaigns: "They're just trying to raise your taxes again!"

I am weary to death of that; weary of a political system that has been fueled far too long on fear. Like ever-rising costs at the gas pump, the price of such fear is escalating, and many are left choking on the fumes.

Most of us have heard the old story of the boy on the beach, surrounded by hundreds of starfish washed up in the tide, picking up the creatures one by one and flinging them back into the ocean. An old man walks up to tell him that what he is doing does not matter, that he'll never save them all. "It matters to this one," says the boy as he sends another starfish into the water.

I like that story because it encourages me to do what I can where I am for whoever I can. I can't save everyone, but what I do matters to those I touch.

But I also can't help but think of all the "starfish" left to gasp alone on the sand.

In Alabama we are surrounded by neighbors who have been washed up on the beach of difficult circumstances. While there are many excellent efforts to get these people to a safer place, many service-provision agencies who work hard to help, we need to address the systemic tides that put our friends in threatening situations to begin with.

Reforming the tax system would be a great place to start.

But it would only be a start. We all understand that it takes a long time to make the kind of changes that the current tax reform plan offers. Similar bills have been offered for years. So I agree that we must show a certain amount of patience while we wait for/work for change.

Still, for those who are paying too much in taxes, struggling to make ends meet, patience is just one more costly commodity.

I heard a radio news report the other day about how lotteries are viewed by people of low income as investment opportunities. Sounds crazy, right? But the report pointed out that for many folks the "normal" avenues of investment are just not available--they don't have enough money to open an IRA. But they can scrape together enough to buy a lottery ticket or two every couple of weeks.

In other words, many are desperate to find a way to long-term security. And, as many have said, you can't win if you don't play.

That kind of desperation just shouldn't exist in a country as rich as ours. So while we wait on the legislature to give us a little light, while many of our fellow citizens continue to struggle, we do well to be impatiently patient, because many can't afford to wait.

Nick Foster is director of the Alabama Poverty Project. This column appeared previously as his blog.

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Tags: Nick Foster, Politics, Poverty, Taxes


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