Another Tax Day has passed without much conversation about how to make our tax system fairer for working families or small businesses. We mostly heard a collective grumble about the filing deadline -- and some of us scrambled to meet it.
We are not tax experts, but, like you, we are taxpayers and voters. Just like shareholders for a company, we should get to set the priorities and hold leadership accountable if those priorities are not met. Let's make 2014 the year we go beyond the grumbling and begin holding politicians accountable for spending choices.
While many political leaders are struggling to address budget shortfalls and a still-sluggish economy, these challenges haven't resulted in the political will to reform the tax code and re-prioritize what we invest in or incentivize.
Like anyone we have ever talked to, we are against wasteful government spending. But the refrain of "cut, cut, cut" is too simple a response for the challenges we face locally and nationally. From our perspective, the bigger problem -- financially and morally -- is that our priorities are upside down.
Otherwise, we would insist profitable companies like GE or Apple pay their fair share in taxes. Instead, politicians cut food and jobless aid. This is morally objectionable, but it's also fiscally foolish. For every $1 we spend on food aid for struggling families generates about $1.70 in economic activity. That's a win-win in our book.
According to a recent report by independent research firm, Audit Analytics, companies like GE, Microsoft and Pfizer stashed $2.1 trillion in offshore tax havens from 2008-2013. That's approximately $250 billion in lost revenue that could have revived our economy when it needed it most. Like we said, these are upside down priorities.
This did not happen by accident. It happened because we, the silent majority of taxpayers and voters, were grumbling instead of demanding more from our elected officials. So what does "more" look like?
For starters, let's get more by investing revenues back into our communities. More kids in preschool classrooms. More workers repairing bridges that need it. More families with enough food on the table and jobless aid until the economy picks up. These investments create jobs, boost local economies, and give everyone a fairer shot to succeed in life -- not a bad standard to work toward.
Elected officials should also make sure that we're collecting taxes fairly. Those who've benefited most from what taxpayers built -- roads, police and fire departments, and free public education to name a few -- should contribute the most. The burden of lifting us out of the current recession has fallen mainly to the working and middle class, and it's time that changed in Washington, D.C., and Springfield.
Taxes are about choices we make as a society and are a reflection of our values. The status quo does not reflect the priorities or wishes of people we know. While we'd like to place all the blame on politicians and well-heeled corporate lobbyists, the reality is that we, the taxpayers and voters, need to look in the mirror.
It's our job to hold elected officials accountable, and honestly, we're doing a lousy job. So this year, we hope you got your grumbling out of the way and get informed, get involved and take action. That's the only way we'll see change.
Don't just tell politicians that your taxes are too high -- it's too easy for them to agree. Tell them how you want your money invested. Tell them you think big businesses should pay more in taxes and, if anything, small businesses should get some breaks in the tax code.
• Ryan Canney is Director of Illinois Fair Share, a grass-roots organization. Beth Carow is a retired suburban principal and a leader with Illinois Fair Share.