National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee

Peace Tax Legislation and NWTRCC

Articles from the April 2009 newsletter are below. Click here for additional comments that were shared at the May 2009 CC Meeting.

Last fall the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund asked its endorsers to renew their support. NWTRCC has been an endorser for many years, but the request was one that needed review by the Coordinating Committee, and the question was raised at our November 2008 meeting in Eugene. A range of opinions were expressed, and the question required more time than we could give it. Therefore, the May Coordinating Committee meeting and gathering will include time for a thorough airing of opinions about the bill and NWTRCC’s endorsement. In addition, we solicited statements for this issue of More Than A Paycheck to provide background for the May meeting. If you would like more information about the history and current status of the legislation, please see the website or call the NWTRCC office for a brochure.

Pam Allee, Portland, Oregon

I am a war tax refuser and redirector. I am also in favor of a Peace Tax Fund.

I feel very strongly that neither my resistance nor the Peace Tax Fund are perfect solutions to creating peace. Both are simply steps on the way to creating a social order that “works” for everyone.

As a war tax refuser, I do redirect to lifegiving organizations, but I am unable to contribute to (for instance) the EPA or CDC or National Endowment for the Arts. Because I choose to file and refuse, I am subject to seizures of money and property. On the other hand, a peace tax fund would not, by itself, reduce the military budget. It would require citizen vigilance and action to keep it “honest.”

So what good could a peace tax fund possibly do? We would have a tangible, verified number of taxpayers who oppose war, who know that “military solution” is an oxymoron. This number would be a potential lever (or hammer) to force Congress to represent us and would bolster peace candidates. The waxing and waning of this number would also tell us whether we were effective organizers and educators.

We currently have no good idea how many people feel so strongly against war that they refuse to pay for it. We do know that there are a lot of people who will go to a peace rally or write letters and make phone calls, but who are afraid of the Big Bad IRS. As a member of a group that gives monthly WTR workshops, I can tell you that a lot of people say they’d gladly check off a peace tax fund on their 1040s if it were available. A peace tax fund would open the doors to the fearful. It would not prevent current war tax refusal.

I do not consider war tax resistance (refusal) and redirection an end in itself, nor simply an expression of my conscience. It is one of the tools I use to witness a future that works for everyone. It may not be my future — I’m 63 — but it must become Earth’s.

Larry Dansinger, Monroe, Maine

In my 25 years of active involvement in the WTR movement, I’ve always had mixed feelings about the proposed Peace Tax Fund (PTF) bill.

The November 2008 NWTRCC meeting in Eugene reflected that split. Because of the debate, the group did not attempt to reach consensus on whether to extend NWTRCC’s endorsement. Instead it was agreed to postpone the decision until May 2009, while maintaining NWTRCC as an endorser until then.

The notes from that meeting included many of my negative feelings about the PTF and a few more. Here are my interpretations of some of the noted reasons for NWTRCC not continuing its endorsement of the campaign:

I agree with every one of these reasons for not supporting the Peace Tax Campaign.

Having gone from the World Peace Tax Fund Bill to the U.S. Peace Tax Fund Bill to the Religious Freedom Tax Fund Bill doesn’t give me any confidence either. Many WTRs, myself included, do not consider themselves “religious.” Why would the campaign leave so many of us out?

In spite of my personal disagreement with the Peace Tax Fund legislation, I think NWTRCC ought to continue to endorse it anyway. Why this nutty turnaround?

So, when NWTRCC meets in May, I hope it will continue to endorse the Peace Tax Fund Campaign, warts and all.

David M. Gross, San Francisco, California

The U.S. government threatens everyone with its nuclear arsenal and designs on global hegemony. It fights multiple wars, and as the world’s largest arms dealer fans the flames of many more.

Both war tax resisters (WTRs) and Peace Tax Fund (PTF) advocates want to stop financially supporting this death machine.

PTF advocates hope to wall-off the warmaking parts of government and pay only for what remains via the PTF.

But say you pay into the PTF, and Congress, prohibited from spending that money on war, spends it on something nice like the Smithsonian. What prevents Congress from then diverting some other money that it was already planning to spend on the Smithsonian to the Pentagon?

What keeps the PTF from being a shell game that gives taxpayers the illusion of control over how their taxes are spent, while Congress really decides just as before? Early PTF proposals — like the version NWTRCC endorsed years ago — had safeguards to discourage this “shell game.”

One allowed taxpayers to send their taxes to UNICEF instead of the U.S. Treasury. Another put the PTF under an independent board of trustees who were explicitly not allowed to “release funds for military expenditures which, were it not for the existence of the Fund, would otherwise have been appropriated for nonmilitary expenditures.”

But the current bill has no safeguards. It allows Congress to spend the Fund on “any appropriation not for a military purpose” — which means Congress could play the “shell game” with impunity.

There is a section in this bill that looks like a safeguard: “It is the sense of Congress that any increase in revenue… shall be allocated in a manner consistent with the purposes of the Fund.”

But “sense of Congress” sections of bills are just unenforceable decoration. Congress once passed a law that said: “It is the sense of the Congress that Hmong and other Highland Lao veterans… should be considered veterans for purposes of continuing certain welfare benefits.” When these veterans tried to get benefits, the courts refused them, saying that if Congress wanted these veterans to get benefits, it should have enacted a law to mandate this — it isn’t enough to just indicate a “sense” that it should happen.

Because the current PTF Act has no safeguards, every taxpayer who gives money to its PTF would, ironically, increase the amount of taxpayer money available for Congress to spend on war. Every “peace tax” payer would be financially supporting the war machine.

Some WTRs would stop resisting and pay into the fund, believing that their dollars would not pay for war. This would mean fewer WTRs, the IRS would have fewer targets, and so each one would be more likely to be targeted. The government would also have a new way to discourage resistance: “Why don’t you just pay into the Peace Tax Fund?”

This divide-and-conquer tactic would be so effective that the government itself might come up with it if the WTR movement in the U.S. ever threatens business-as-usual. It wouldn’t be the first time: In 1693, Pennsylvania governor Benjamin Fletcher tried to get the Quakers in the Pennsylvania Assembly to cough up some money to fight the French and Indians.

He assured them:

[I]f there be any amongst you that scruple the giving of money to support war, there are a great many other charges in that government…: Your money shall be converted to these uses, and shall not be dipped in blood.

The Quakers knew a shell game when they saw one, and they didn’t allocate any war money. I suggest we follow their example and not support the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act.

Carolyn Stevens, Seattle, Washington

I want to add my support to Larry Dansinger’s conclusion that NWTRCC should continue to support the Peace Tax Fund legislation. I think that Larry nails it when he writes, “In many cases, they are us.” Why would we want to disassociate ourselves from an organization of conscientious war tax resisters? When is political correctness more important than solidarity and community? That’s what it comes down to for me. Yes, of course, the legislation is imperfect. It was from the outset and has gotten more so as it has morphed from the World Peace Tax Fund bill to the Religious Freedom Tax Fund Bill. But looking around, I don’t see anyone who is a closer ally. Not the left wing of the Democratic party that gets all hyped up about elections. Not most grassroots peace organizations. Not the traditional CO groups or historic peace churches. The NCPTF is one of our closest and most consistent national allies, and I don’t want to turn my back on them because the bill isn’t perfect.

Since the Eugene NWTRCC meeting, I have thought a lot about why we heard such polarized opinions for and against the NCPTF. I’ve decided that it’s a question of priorities. For some folks, political purity is the litmus test. I respect that, but it’s not me. Community and solidarity are more important to me. Obviously, I’m stating our views in the extreme. I’m sure that solidarity is important to the folks who are against the Peace Tax fund bill, and principle is very important to me. It’s just that we break differently when it comes to deciding about this endorsement. To me, the long-standing collaboration between NWTRCC and NCPTF is critical. We have organized together for decades. They have had a consistent attendance at our meetings. These are our friends. These are, for the most part, conscientious war tax resisters. These are our allies. “In many cases, they are us.”

I haven’t decided if I will come to the next NWTRCC meeting, all the way across the country, to be part of our continuing NCPTF endorsement discussion. So I appreciate the opportunity to share my views in this issue of the newsletter. I have great faith in the power of consensus decision-making to come to the right decision, regardless of who is actually in the room when a decision is made. I’m sure that my viewpoint will be reflected whether I’m there in person or not.

Karl Meyer, Nashville, Tennessee

From its earliest days, I have regarded efforts to pass a Peace Tax Fund bill in Congress as,

  1. essentially futile, because of Congressional reluctance,
  2. possibly counterproductive because the effort for years has given some military tax objectors a rationalization for continuing to pay military taxes while they advocated for passage of such enabling legislation, and,
  3. an ineffectual fig leaf, even if enacted, because it would have no necessary effect on the level of military appropriations or spending, merely rearranging the drawers in which total revenues from taxpayers are kept, pending expenditure.

Nevertheless, I recommend that NWTRCC continue to endorse passage of the bill because we have always been a wide coalition covering the whole range of conscientious objectors to military taxation, from the most radical commitment to complete nonpayment of Federal Income Taxes, which I advocate, to the least assertive forms of protest, and nonpayment of token amounts of taxes claimed. We should support the efforts of all others as we hope that they will support ours.

Joffre Stewart, Chicago, Illinois

No to endorsement of the bill of the National Campaign for a “Peace Tax” Fund. There is not and cannot be a peace tax. Taxes are collected with the same violence that makes war. The bill would raise money for the State whereas I don’t believe in the State and support/practice resistance as a way of shutting down the War System by getting rid of the State which organizes it. A nonviolent revolution terminates both the constitution and UN Charter which mandate and sustain (tax) law-enforcement which penalizes our antiwar direct actions both as tax resisters and otherwise. Moreover, there may be a danger of discrimination against harmless resisters who don’t fit a religious definition. Our resistance is ethics based, not law based.

Kelly Suttles, Durham, North Carolina

I was sort of surprised when I read that your group had to discuss the endorsement of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund. It kind of seems like a no-brainer. I think ultimately all of the NWTRCC supporters would want a bill like this to pass Congress, so that we can all pay our taxes once and for all with a clear conscience. It’s a campaign that I feel badly that I have not been more involved with. Is the organization ineffective? Is that why the endorsement has to be discussed? I don’t see any useful reason for NWTRCC to distance itself from a legal option to resist paying for war unless that is the case.

Please continue to send (mail or email) in comments, which we will post on the NWTRCC website and listserve and take to our May 1 meeting.

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