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Sister Therese Bangert: Keep tax credit for low income

  • Published Sunday, March 31, 2013, at 12 a.m.

My life’s service has been oriented toward walking with people in poverty. This walk often leads me to see the basic lack of fairness that encompasses the lives of the poor.

That’s why the Catholic Church and the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth care about taxes. Tax policy affects those who are in poverty. Our new Pope Francis spoke clearly in the first days of his papacy, saying, “We must take care of the poor.”

Back in 1998, when Kansas was the land of milk and honey and the economy was booming across the nation, the Legislature spent an entire session hammering out a tax-cut bill with a price tag of $252 million. Gov. Bill Graves touted the bill’s inherent fairness. It slashed, he explained, taxes across a broad spectrum: business, income, sales and inheritance, and it slashed taxes for low-income working parents. This portion of the bill was the refundable earned income tax credit.

So we come to 2013. The Legislature is again working on tax and budget issues. This year, Gov. Sam Brownback did not propose any change to the current EITC policy. This fits with his “road map” that embraces the reduction of childhood poverty. Current studies of the federal EITC have shown that the EITC lifts more children out of poverty than any other federal policy.

In fact, after the controversial 2012 tax-reduction package was passed, both the governor and Kansas Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan noted the continuance of the state’s EITC for low-income workers.

Now, late in the session, Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, has introduced a bill that would cut the EITC from 17 to 9 percent.

Those receiving the EITC are usually younger working families who are not homeowners. My experience says that these working parents are most often working full time in jobs that pay $20,000 to $35,000 a year. Typically these are not jobs that pay mileage or have expense accounts. The refundable credit allows these parents to make car repairs or get new tires, pay off credit cards and medical bills, and buy their children new shoes. I actually had people in the Capitol last year tell me, “It is only $300!”

Most important, the Kansas refund of $300 promotes tax fairness. These working parents pay food tax (for which there is no rebate starting in 2013), sales tax and property tax (most often through rent). Gas tax is the same if you are driving a Ford Contour or a Cadillac.

I continue to be baffled that legislators can speak of the benefit to middle- and high-income families of having an extra $300 in their pockets as a result of tax policy, while seemingly failing to comprehend what the same $300 means to low-income working parents.

This cut in the EITC will not automatically happen. I encourage you to raise your voice with legislators who most likely will make this decision in the coming days. Let them know that you care about parents who are working in low-wage jobs. Let legislators know that you care about the children in these families. Let them know that you care about tax fairness.

Sister Therese Bangert is social-justice coordinator of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.

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