Rhetoric of 'Compassion' Painfully Empty

This year the day of reckoning for national income taxes fell during Holy Week, as Christians celebrated the Passion of Jesus, who taught that we should love one another -- even our enemies -- be merciful, and help the poor and the least among us.

This is also a year when a self-proclaimed Christian heads the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth. So how is this Christian is spending your income tax dollars?

Your income taxes go into an account called "Federal Funds" from which "outlays" are made. These are expenditures which are either "mandatory" because of previous legislation or "discretionary" -- selected each year. This year there will be about $780 billion in discretionary spending from Federal Funds of $1,731.

There is a bigger pie, the "Unified Budget", of about $2.27 trillion. It includes Federal Funds plus funds like Social Security, Medicare and highway funds, which are collected and spent separately from tax funds . The Unified Budget is often used to scare us about deficits or reassure us how little we spend on controversial items, so today we'll stick with just Federal Funds.

Nearly half of the outlays from Federal Funds (your tax dollars) goes for military spending. It is hard to be precise, because arbitrary decisions have to be made about what goes in which category. Should we count veteran's medical services as health care or military expenses? Is NASA defense or commerce? Is Homeland Security justice or defense? Should housing be economic development or family support? Do clean water and clean air belong under environment or health?

Another 35% of your tax dollar goes to "human resources" like education, health, food, housing, social programs. About 15% goes to running the government -- including the interest on the national debt.

This sounds too simple, and it is. First, even that huge percentage for military spending doesn't include spending for the war on Iraq or the war on terrorism. Second, income tax revenues are down, mostly because of huge tax cuts to the wealthy. But regardless of cause, the effect has been severe reductions in the amount of money (your tax dollars) returned to the states to fund domestic programs.

Now let's come back to the ground in NE Ohio. Last year the good people of Portage County pitched in to build a new Miller Community House to serve their homeless neighbors. Generous contributions were made by local businesses and government, by churches, clubs and private citizens. Volunteers from Habitat for Humanity and other groups did much of the work. Altogether the value of the new building is about $500,000, because of community contributions, it's completely paid for.

But it costs $145,000 a year to operate. In the past, almost a third of that ($45,800) has come from the Ohio Housing Trust Fund. This year, because of the state budget crisis, funds for all housing and homeless programs have been dropped from the general budget.

The state administration has proposed new dedicated funding for the Housing Trust Fund by doubling the fee (average about $15) charged for recording documents like real-estate transfers. That doesn't seem a terribly burdensome increase, especially as a one-time fee when a house worth tens of thousands of dollars changes owners. No doubt a large majority of Ohioans would vote for such an increase.

But Ohioans don't get to vote on it -- only legislators, who are under pressure to vote against it (H.B. 95) from mortgage and title companies and county recorders.

And there is no Plan B. If H.B. 95 fails, Miller Community House will lose a third of its operating funding and will have to close or severely reduce its services.

Of course the good people of Portage County could scramble up another $45,000 this year. But should we have to? Let's make some connections between your federal income tax dollar and Miller Community House:

--Every tax dollar spent on deadly weapons and war is a dollar you will have to replace in order to have the humane programs you want as a good neighbor in your community. For about the cost of three cluster bombs (the ones that were so effective in killing and wounding Iraqi children) we could assure that Miller Community House stays open this year.

-Every dollar a millionaire doesn't pay in taxes shrinks the pie that feeds us all. With the gargantuan appetite of the military, there isn't much pie left for the many challenges we face as a nation -- hungry and homeless people, education, health care, jobs, the environment.

So what can you do?

As a resident of Portage County you can help your local officials apportion what funds there are wisely. As an Ohio citizen you can make sure your legislators pass H.B. 95 to insure funding for shelters like Miller Community House.

As a U.S. citizen you can demand that your Congress stop cutting taxes for the wealthy and start addressing human and domestic problems. You can support Senator Voinovich in his principled stand against massive tax cuts for the rich.

This Easter you might even compare the Passion of Jesus to the "compassion" of Bush. Or at least question the "Christian" priorities and policies of an administration that rewards the rich, starts a war, and leaves behind the starving, the sick, the poor, the uneducated, and the dispossessed of the world, our nation, our state and our community.

The writer thanks George Krumbhaar, founder and Managing Editor of www.usbudget.com for helpful guidance about the federal budget.

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