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posted: 4/11/2014 5:01 AM

Illinois tax system unjustly serves the wealthy

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By suburban faith leaders

We, as faith leaders who serve and oversee congregations throughout suburban Chicago, speak with a united voice in support of a Fair Tax, with lower rates for lower incomes and higher rates for higher incomes. God's call for justice compels us to work for change to Springfield's unjust tax and budgeting process, a system that hurts families in middle- and low-income communities across Illinois.

Christian, Jewish and Muslim teachings emphasize a God who is fair and that fairness is embodied by the principle that those who have been blessed with plentiful resources should contribute to the common good.

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The Christian gospels tell us that Jesus instructed his followers to give out of their abundance so that others will have enough. Jesus taught us to expect more from the very rich -- not less and not even the same -- more. In Judaism, the concept of Tzedakah -- helping fellow human beings in need -- compels people not only to give charity, but also pursue righteous and just solutions. One of the five pillars of Islam, known as Zakat, is the obligation of those with means to contribute to ease the economic hardship of others and to strive toward the elimination of inequality.

We live in a time in which the wealthiest have benefitted greatly, while the burdens on lower- and middle-income families have grown. Middle class and poor families are losing ground despite their hard work. During a time of growing income inequality, Illinois maintains a tax structure that forces these families to pay a rate that is two to three times that of the very rich, when factoring all state and local taxes paid. That is unjust.

Our lawmakers serve the narrow interests of the rich and powerful at the expense of everyday Illinois families, particularly our most vulnerable citizens. Springfield's been pushing off its responsibilities to fund our schools, public safety and health care onto struggling local taxpayers while providing tax giveaways to corporations and the rich.

Springfield's unfair budget and tax policies are already stacked against the majority of families, but it's about to get far worse. The state's pending budget collapse would bring irreparable harm to the most vulnerable communities -- including children, seniors families who live in or near poverty -- and impose intense human suffering.

Our religious practices call upon us to give aid to those in poverty and to show compassion for the sick and vulnerable. Our faiths demand we live not for ourselves, but that we show concern for all of God's children.

That's why we joined 100 religious leaders in Chicago recently for an interfaith prayer vigil in which we pledged to work and pray to enact a Fair Tax in Illinois. More than 225 leaders representing faiths and congregations from all across the state have joined the coalition to date.

The urgency and purpose that filled the air that day has not left us. We have only until May persuade our legislators to pass the Fair Tax Act, which would let "We, The People" decide the issue on the upcoming November ballot. We again call on our elected leaders in Springfield to pass the Fair Tax Act as a first step in ensuring we have a tax and budget system that truly serves all of God's children, not just the very rich and powerful.

• The coalition includes Bishop Sally Dyck, Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church; Rabbi Stephen Hart, Temple Chai of Long Grove; Bishop Wayne Miller, Metropolitan Chicago Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; Rev. Jorge Morales, Conference Minister of Illinois, United Church of Christ; Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III, Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ; and Imam Matthew Ramadan, Deputy Director, Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.

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