Wednesday, August 16, 2006

 

Peace Tax Fund Staffer Admits "bill does not decrease military spending"

Below in italics and block quote are my responses to an August 2, 2006, comment by Chris Fretz, a staff member of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund. Not all of his comment is reproduced below. I have emphasized some of his words by underlining them.

... Below you will find each question, followed by our response.

1. Why should War Tax Resisters (WTRs)/Conscientious Objectors to Military Taxation (COMTs) or their allies support a bill that would admittedly INCREASE federal revenues?

As you said, HR 2631 would increase federal revenues. However, the bill also states "It is the sense of Congress that any increase in revenue to the Treasury resulting from creation of the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund shall be allocated in a manner consistent with the purposes of the Fund." Your question implies that War Tax Resisters (WTRs)/Conscientious Objectors to Military Taxation (COMTs) are anti-government.

No, it does not. Even WTRs/COMTs who are not anti-government should be concerned about increasing federal revenues when HR 2631 does absolutely nothing to cut military spending. There is nothing very conscientious about feeding more money to the war machine but doing so indirectly and then patting yourself on the back for it.
... Many WTRs/COMTs support this legislation because they want their beliefs to be respected, and to have a legal option to pay their taxes without their personal tax money being spent on military activities. This legislation would increase revenue that would be allocated in a manner consistent to the purpose of the Fund, which is to extend COMT rights, and it would give them a legal option that does not violate their conscience. I hope you will come to see how that goal is worthy in itself.
Money is fungible and I don't see anything "worthy" in creating a feel good shell game that increases federal revenue and splits the WTR/COMT community.
2. Is there any evidence that HR 2631, if signed into law, would actually divert a single penny away from military spending?

The Campaign has never claimed that HR 2631 would divert money from the pentagon.
Well, this is an honest admission and I thank you for it.
Money is fungible, and HR 2631 would only divert money from military spending if enough taxpayers paid into the Peace Tax Fund that the government’s general fund became smaller than the military budget. That may seem unlikely, however, many taxpayers who are not currently WTRs/COMTs might use the bill once they become aware such an option exists.
A reasonable estimate that I quoted previously is that "in order to make any reduction to the 26% of every tax dollar that is spent for military purposes, more than 74% of taxpayers would have to declare themselves conscientious objectors." HR 2631 relies upon an already onerous statute that defines a conscientious objector as a person "who, by reason of religious training and belief, is conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form." However, the statute continues: "As used in this subsection, the term 'religious training and belief' does not include essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views, or a merely personal moral code.

If you're going to go forward in this effort then why not at least adopt a less burdensome definition of conscientious objector? I recommend that you have a look at HR 5060 (102d Cong., 2nd Session).
However, the main goal of the bill has always been to extend to WTRs/COMTs the rights COs have enjoyed since 1940 by ensuring that legal penalties are not imposed because of their beliefs that killing is wrong, and so is paying others to kill in their names.

It would be much more honest and accurate to say "to extend to some WTRs/COMTs the rights some COs have enjoyed." Non-religious and other COs have always been excluded "since 1940" and they and others would be left out in the cold by HR 2631.
3a. If HR 2631 was signed into law wouldn't some WTRs/COMTs understandably still refuse to pay because they realize that money is fungible and the bill INCREASES federal revenues?

3b. Isn't it likely that prosecutors would invoke failure to avail themselves of the provisions of HR 2631 as an aggravating circumstance when prosecuting such WTRs/COMTs?

3c. Doesn't HR 2631 potentially create two classes of WTRs/COMTs--one legal (but helping to INCREASE federal revenues), the other illegal--thereby splitting an already too small movement and furthering a divide-and-conquer strategy by the government?

It is a personal choice whether one pays their full income taxes or practices war tax resistance. It would also be a personal choice whether or not a WTR/COMT would use the Peace Tax Fund.

Why not work to give them a real choice instead of a feel good shell game choice that would likely never divert a single penny away from the Pentagon? A Peace Tax Credit Bill would do that.
Some WTRs/COMTs may still refuse to pay taxes after HR 2631 is signed into law.
Yes, the WTRs/COMTs who are really conscientious, who don't want their money used to kill. They would continue to resist and they would be left out in the cold by HR 2631.
But we simply want to give people that choice. WTRs/COMTs do actually suffer at the hands of the IRS, which recently sent 3 WTRs to prison – a very rare punishment and troubling development. Had the bill been law, it would have prevented this abuse of conscience.

Not necessarily, what evidence do you have that the three WTRs in question would have paid under the scheme envisioned by HR 2631?
To be honest, we don’t know if prosecutors will consider failing to use the provisions of 2631 as an aggravating circumstance. That will probably vary greatly from case to case depending upon the WTR/COMT’s circumstance and legal argument.

How about including a clause that addresses the issue explicitly?
I think that most WTRs/COMTs would be glad to have legislation that brings attention to their dilemma of conscience. While the bill does not decrease military spending,

Again, an honest admission for which I am grateful.
a worthy goal of many other campaigns and organizations, it does recognize that conscientious objection extends not only to physical participation in war, but to financial participation as well, and increases visibility that such beliefs exist in our country. ... The bill would also require the government to report the level of Peace Tax Fund usage, providing a measure of the number of taxpayers who are COMTs. This would add to the dialogue about military spending priorities and could build momentum toward changing current priorities.

We can't know the future, and laws can be amended as necessary. First we have to pass the bill.
Why put so much time, energy, and money into a very faulty bill to be amended later? Why not put forward a good bill that would still raise the important issues and would deprive the Pentagon of its blood money? Why not ask for what you want at the outset and compromise if you must but only when you have a real chance of getting something passed?
... 4. Have supporters of HR 2631 considered a Peace Tax Credit bill that instead of increasing federal revenues would give WTRs/COMTs a 100% tax credit for money spent on non-profits charities, non-profits, etc.? If not, why not?

The Campaign has been around for over 30 years and continues to evolve. In the peace tax movement there has not been broad consideration of a Peace Tax Credit Bill.

It doesn't seem like much evolution is going on. The bill is very faulty and in 30 years these faults have, apparently, not been corrected. Maybe it's time to punctuate the equilibrium.
However, our legislative committee carefully considers how the legislation gets written, though ultimately the final phrasing is up to our lead sponsor in Congress, which is currently Rep. John Lewis (GA-5). If you have ideas on how the tax credit idea would be implemented I’d be glad to discuss it with you. You are also welcome to make a written proposal to the Campaign’s board of directors. But the Campaign remains focused on passing the bill that we have and trying to build grassroots awareness and support among our allies.
It doesn't seem like the Campaign is really very open to change or constructive criticism.

In sum, if you want to send more money to the war machine, split the war tax resistance movement, and help set up a feel good shell game then the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund bill (HR 2631) is for you. If you want a legal way to stop feeding the war machine against your will then encourage the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund to drop its support for HR 2631 and to start drafting a Peace Tax Credit bill.
...

Peace,

Chris Fretz
National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund

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