Let's Use Taxes to Put America to Work

Authors: Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Green For All CEO

Originally published on The Huffington Post.

As tax day rolls around, hardworking families are meeting their obligations to our nation by paying their taxes. This year, Americans will pay an estimated $2.62 trillion in federal taxes and $1.42 trillion in state-local taxes. But at the same time, the reality is many of the wealthiest Americans just aren’t doing their part. Since the Bush tax cuts were signed into law, the nation’s top earners continue to get wealthier while middle-class and low-income families are paying more than their fair share. It’s time to put an end to the free passes for billionaires and millionaires and make our tax system more fair and equitable for all Americans. That doesn’t just mean equality – though that’s vital – it means making our country great again through valuable investments in our nation’s future.

The inequity of our current tax system is best illustrated when you look at the tax rates of Warren Buffett and his secretary: as Buffett has pointed out, she pays 35.8 percent of income in taxes, while he pays only 17.4 percent. He’s been vociferous about the blatant inequality of this system. But this isn’t the only example. The IRS says that in 2009 there were 22,000 households who earned more than $1 million but paid less than 15 percent of their income in taxes. I personally don’t know anyone who thinks this is fair. On Monday, the “Buffett rule”, was introduced in Congress to increase the tax rates on the super wealthy. Getting something like this through Washington, DC during an election year will be challenging to put things mildly.

So what can be done? The answer is simple. Let the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires expire and put the savings towards rebuilding our great nation. Studies show that if the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans were to end, it would free up $1.5 trillion dollars. This money could be invested in our nation’s future – (think infrastructure and essential investment: teachers, firefighters, small business leaders and those who lead youth workforce development) and, of course, get Americans struggling to make ends meet back to work.

It’s clear that our nation’s middle and lower class families are paying more than their fair share and their outrage is evident. Those feelings of frustration turned into action last fall with the Occupy movement. Thousands of Americans came together across the country because they want a government they can be proud of, one that values fairness and equity and doesn’t put the haves over the have nots.

While our nation’s unemployment rates remain just above 8 percent, communities of color that were hit the hardest during the recession continue to struggle. According to recent reports, unemployment rates among African Americans remain at a staggering 14 percent. That’s unacceptable. Period. Investing in the clean energy economy will generate new economic opportunity, and will create the jobs needed to end our nation’s unemployment epidemic – for everyone. In fact, investments in clean energy have the potential to create hundreds of thousands if not millions of jobs in the green economy in energy efficiency, water infrastructure, as well as renewable energy and transportation sectors.

In fact, just last month the Bureau of Labor reported that in 2010 the green economy accounted for 2.4 percent of total employment. That’s 3.1 million Americans who are working in green-collar jobs to build our nation’s economy. These are the construction workers who install solar panels and weatherize homes and office buildings, entrepreneurs that own small recycling companies, manufacturers creating energy efficient products, and innovators developing the next alternative energy breakthroughs.

But that’s only the start. Simply put, green jobs are the jobs of the 21st century. Investing in green construction, technology, manufacturing, and alternative energy will boost our economy, help us get out of debt, create jobs and position our nation to continue to lead in the 21st century global economy. So instead of giving the wealthiest Americans a free ride, why shouldn’t we ask them to pay their fair share? That’s the only way we are going to bring fairness to our tax system and make our nation stronger, healthier and more competitive.

America deserves better. Our economy deserves better. And our future deserves the investment it needs. We need to come together to call on Congress to put an end to the tax breaks and loopholes for the top 1 percent. Because creating jobs for millions of people is how our nation will be an economic powerhouse once again.

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