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Louisiana community leaders urge fiscal fairness

26th December 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Lianna Patch
Contributing Writer

Gathered in a windy churchyard on the morning of December 20, a group of Louisiana clergy, community leaders and advocates publicly implored state lawmakers to support a federal deficit plan that does not place the burden of greater taxes on low-income families.

Led by Pastor Brandon Boutin of Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church, the presenters spoke to a small audience about the realities of low-income living in Louisiana.

The event, held at the People’s United Methodist Church on Simon Bolivar Avenue, was spearheaded by the MICAH Project in conjunction with PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) Louisiana and the Working Interfaith Network (WIN).

In the face of fiscal cliff negotiations, which have revolved around President Obama’s proposed tax increases for families earning more than $250,000 a year, Thursday’s conference drew attention to the other end of the spectrum, and how upcoming financial negotiations will affect Louisiana.

The state is already facing a budget shortfall in 2013, but it’s not due to extravagance: “Louisiana has a revenue problem, not a spending problem,” said Jan Moller, Director of the Louisiana Budget Project. The state is in its fifth straight year of midyear budget cuts, which always fall around the holidays—however, this year, even more is at stake for Louisiana’s poorest residents. Low-income families already struggling with increased expenses and cuts in Medicare and Medicaid may see their tax credits drop.

Expanded over the course of the last decade, the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit are due to expire in 11 days. Moller emphasized the importance of these credits, which lift tens of thousands of Louisiana families above the poverty line each year. He also stressed that earned income and child tax credits receive broad bipartisan support in Congress because they go only to working families, helping to keep low-income citizens off welfare.

Citing studies showing that children living above the poverty line do better in school, Moller called the credits an “investment in the future.” As an example of the difference the Child Tax Credit can make, Moller said that a single mother with two children working full-time at minimum wage would receive $173 instead of $1,725 if Louisiana’s expanded Child Tax Credit is not extended.

Dr. Andre Perry, The Louisiana Weekly columnist and Associate Director for Educational Initiatives for Loyola University’s Institute for Quality and Equity in Education, called the idea that lawmakers would continue to reward the wealthy with tax cuts while making survival for low-income families even harder “wrongheaded, coldhearted and irresponsible.”

Speaking for Senator Mary Landrieu, Regional Manager Laverne Saulny offered words of sustainment and solidarity, and encouraged reliance on “compassion, reason and strength” when addressing budget issues. Lan­drieu’s statement included a reminder that the Senator voted for the extension of middle-class tax cuts applying to 98 percent of Louisianians.

Representative Cedric Richmond and Senator David Vitter were also not in attendance, though Vitter’s camp had apparently promised to send a spokesperson. Richmond’s prepared statement noted that “budgets and taxes are about the choices we face,” and expressed optimism that a solution for low- to middle-class families facing tax hikes could be found before the new year.

Lending additional support to the event was Michael McClanahan, Vice President of the NAACP of Baton Rouge. Standing next to a large gift topped with a bow, and a pile of coal, McClanahan gave a short but pointed speech to underline the question lawmakers face: Will Congress present low-income families with a lump of coal this Christmas, or will it provide the support they need to lift themselves out of poverty?

Though MICAH’s morning event was chilly, each speaker retained a genuine warmth for the subject at hand, and for fellow Louisianians who will be impacted by the imminent financial negotiations. With the fiscal cliff’s apparent dropoff approaching, it remains to be seen whether this group of organizers will influence policymakers’ decisions.

This article was originally published in the December 24, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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