Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Missouri Catholics CAN Support The Fair Tax

St. John of God, Patron of Publishers
Pray for us!
THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT:  On January 21st, 2011 the Missouri Catholic Conference Messenger ran a number of articles outlining it's case against the Missouri Jobs Act, otherwise known as the "Missouri Fair Tax."  This series of articles was very condemning of the measure, creating the illusion that the legislation harmed the poor and opposed the social teachings of the Catholic Church. Catholic Missourians reading the articles were likely to walk away with the notion that one cannot support the measure and still remain a Catholic in good standing with the Church.  To make matters worse, the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC) cites as it's board of directors the Catholic bishops of the State of Missouri (Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, Bishop Edward Rice, Bishop John R. Gaydos, Bishop James V. Johnston and Bishop Robert W. Finn).  The "Messenger" claims to write on behalf of the MCC and as a voice for Missouri's Catholic bishops.

There were two things I found particularly disturbing about this.  The first was the way the articles were written.   They left the reader with the impression that there was no redeeming quality to the Missouri Jobs Act, thus giving the reader the false impression that one cannot support it and remain a good Catholic.  The second was that the lead article was written by a person who may not necessarily have the best interests in mind for Missouri's Catholic bishops or the Catholic Church's social teaching in general.

Amy Blouin
Amy Blouin is the Founder and Executive Director of the Missouri Budget Project which David Catanese of KY3 News in Springfield Missouri described as a "liberal leaning" organization. Ironically, she is the former Director of Advocacy for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Louis from 2001 to 2003. While she doesn't appear to be working within the internal structures of the Catholic Church anymore, she apparently still has connections with the MCC and the "Messenger." 

A snapshot of Rep. Oxford's blog
taken on 3/8/2011
Click Image To Enlarge
While it is difficult to discern Blouin's personal political leanings with a brief search on the Internet, we can learn a lot about somebody from the things she says and the people she associates with. Blouin's father, who was a Democratic Congressman in Iowa and ran for Governor in 2006, was listed as having a significant influence on her life in an interview with the St. Louis Business Journal in 2008. Blouin also listed her husband, Joe Squillace who teaches as an adjunct professor at Saint Louis University School of Social Work, as a significant influence who encouraged her to start the Missouri Budget Project. Background aside, what is revealing about Amy Blouin and Joe Squillace is their apparent connection to Democratic Missouri Representative Jeanette Mott Oxford - the first open lesbian elected to the Missouri Legislature. Representative Oxford is pro-abortion, and in 2010 received a "Pro-Choice" grade from NARAL. Oxford also appears to be a supporter of same-sex unions. The connection between Oxford and Blouin comes from a post on Oxford's own Internet blog dated July 14, 2006 in which she claimed a fundraising Party at Amy Blouin and Joe Squillace's home for her reelection would be held on Thursday, July 27, 2006 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and would be co-hosted by "Amy and Joe." 

Assuming this information from the State Congresswoman is accurate, and we have no reason to believe it isn't, it would appear that Amy Blouin has no problem actively supporting (even hosting fundraisers) for political candidates who oppose the Church's most basic social teachings against abortion and gay-marriage. This gives us some background context for Mrs. Blouin's article in the "Messenger."

Before I dig into the article, and Mrs. Blouin's consistently left-wing bias on many issues she speaks to on behalf of the Missouri Budget Project, I would like to ask some questions. Why is this person writing articles for the Missouri Catholic Conference? Do the bishops on the MCC's Board of Directors approve of people writing opinion articles on their behalf, who think so little of the Church's teaching against gay-marriage and abortion, and doing so in a newspaper that reports to speak for them? If Amy Blouin demonstrated such egregious lack of judgment, as to support and fund raise for an open lesbian candidate who supports the murder of innocent unborn children, why would the bishops of the MCC trust her judgment on any lesser social issue? Let alone, why would they let her speak for them on it? Furthermore, what has become of the "Missouri Catholic Conference Messenger?" Is it nothing more than a soapbox for Left-wing activists promoting their agenda under the cloak of episcopal representation? Is this how Missouri's Catholic bishops want to be represented?

Now while The Catholic Knight does not personally know the minds of the bishops of the MCC, I have been able to ascertain from their writings, statements and homilies that they are not men who would likely condone this.  I am left with the impression that the bishops of the MCC may not know (or may not have been fully informed) of the issue at hand, and the type of representation they got in Amy Blouin's article.  I suspect they may actually be misinformed by those running the MCC "Messenger."  I admit this is just an opinion on my part, but based on the evidence I've just presented above, I think it's a fair assumption.  In light of this, the bishops of the MCC may want to revisit this issue and perhaps investigate the way things are being run by the administrative staff of the MCC with particular attention to the kind of message that is being printed in the "Messenger."  Furthermore, to address the damage that may have been done to the conscience of Missouri's Catholics, the bishops might want to consider some form of statement, or press release, that addresses the matter directly.  These are just my humble suggestions, for as it stands right now, thanks to the January 21st edition of the Messenger, it would be fair to assume that a large number of Missouri Catholics are under the impression that they can't be good Catholics and support the Missouri Jobs Act at the same time.  This impression almost appears to bear the seal of Missouri's Catholic bishops, or at least that's the notion that was created by the Messenger.

Another notion created by the Messenger is the idea that matters of economics and taxation trump the Church's social message of abortion and same-sex marriage.  This message was created by giving Amy Blouin such a prominent position in the newspaper.  Her apparent support and fund raising for a pro-abortion lesbian candidate is scandalous to say the least, especially when she is placed in a position to speak for the bishops in their own newspaper.  One can only wonder how many Missouri Catholics now think fiscal matters and taxation are more important than abortion and family.  Again, this is another issue the bishops of the MCC may want to publicly address.

All that aside, let's get down to the nitty gritty of the topic at hand. The subject of the article written by Blouin was about the Missouri Jobs Act, sometimes referred to loosely as the "Missouri Fair Tax." Other articles written by different columnists followed - all of them negative.  Now the MCC opposes the Missouri Jobs Act, and Amy Blouin's article was used to back their position. How much Blouin's article influenced the MCC is not clear, but it is certain the MCC is using articles written by this Left-leaning activist to bolster their position. 

With all of the pressing social issues that surround us today, one would think Catholic newspapers would be preoccupied with addressing the big three - Life, Family and School Choice. Certainly the Wisconsin bishops have wisely decided to stay neutral in the ongoing dispute between labor unions and state budget cuts. To clarify the Wisconsin bishops' stand on the ongoing labor/budget dispute, Bishop Morlino of the Diocese of Madison issued the following statement...
...The teaching of the Church allows for persons of good will to disagree as to which horn of this dilemma should be chosen, because there would be reasonable justification available for either alternative. (This is unlike the case of abortion or euthanasia, for which reason can offer absolutely no justification in terms of the killing of an innocent victim.)...

read full statement here
This was a wise move indeed, as these bishops know full well that Catholics can hold to good-faith positions on both sides of the issue. Pope Benedict recently pointed out that the pressing issues facing modern civilization can be summarized as the...
"protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception to natural death; recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family -- as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage -- and its defense from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its de-stabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable social role, and the protection of the right of parents to educate their children."

- (Pope Benedict XVI, March 30, 2006).  
In a society where literally none of these big three necessities are met, one would think Catholic newspapers would focus on them with the full intensity of a red-hot laser beam, shuffling the other issues (such as budgets, taxes, government spending, etc.) to a secondary status.

Not so with the Missouri Catholic Conference Messenger, which for 2011 seems to have decided to put the issue of state taxes at the top of the list. Now Missouri is not like the West Coast or New England states with crushing state income and property taxes that burden families. In fact, Missouri ranks about middle of the road in income and property taxes in comparison to the rest of the country. The Missouri legislature is not contemplating a tax hike that threatens families either. No, what the Missouri state legislature is contemplating is a complete change in THE WAY it collects taxes. The Missouri Jobs Act is Missouri's version of the increasingly popular nationwide Fair Tax proposal. The measure is designed to attract jobs to the state of Missouri, which in the end is the greatest form of social justice and option for the poor in a depressed economy facing a "jobless recovery." Across the nation, economists of all stripes have pointed out that legislation of this kind would indeed attract business and grow the economy.

Here's how it works. All current state income, capital gains and sales taxes are completely eliminated. In exchange, the state implements a low state-wide sales tax on all new retail goods and services, gradually phased in over five years. There is no tax on the sale of used goods, income, investments or savings. The plan assures the changes will be revenue neutral for the state and local communities in each year of transition and allows revenue to grow as the state and local economies grow. Now before we go on let's review...
  1. All current state income, capital gains and sales taxes are completely eliminated.
  2. These are replaced with a single state-wide retail sales tax, on new retail goods and services that is phased in over five years.
  3. No used goods, income, investments or savings are taxed.
Now of course, any good Catholic should ask the question "what about the poor?" Yes, that's a good question. How are we to insure that the poor do not pay the same sales tax rate as the rich on the basic necessities they need to survive and thrive in Missouri's economy? This issue is specifically addressed with a sales tax prebate that is paid out to all Missouri citizens, compensating them fully for all taxes paid on basic retail necessities based on the poverty line. That means nobody in extreme poverty pays retail sales taxes, reducing the retail sales tax rate for the average Missourian in extreme poverty to zero percent (0%). This is because people in extreme poverty obviously can't buy as much retail goods to begin with.  The prebate insures that when they do buy retail goods (or have to buy retail goods) they will pay no state sales tax on those goods.  Those who buy more retail goods will obviously pay a slightly higher average percentage (1%, 2%, 3%, etc.) when averaged out with the prebate, depending on how much they spend. It is an established fact that people who make more money tend to spend more money. Those who make the most money, will obviously spend the most money, and those people will in turn pay the highest average percentage of retail sales tax. No income tracking mechanism is needed because the percentages average out on their own based on the prebate and how much you spend.  If you spend below the poverty line you pay 0%.  If you only spend a little above that, your average sales tax might be around 1% or less.  If you spend a little more, it may go up to 2%, all by itself, based on averages, because everyone is reimbursed with a prebate based on the poverty line.  What makes this system unique is that it requires considerably less money to operate, as the collection system is already in place at every cash register in the state. It's no different than collecting the state sales tax already collected at Missouri's cash registers....

So now the most commonly asked questions follow...
  1. Is this system perfect? The answer is no. That's because no system is perfect. 
  2. Is this system impossible to cheat? Again, the answer is no. There are ways to cheat the system, but then there are even more ways to cheat the current income and sales tax system already in place in Missouri.  Besides, this new system will eliminate far more cheating than that, in the sense that people who currently don't pay Missouri taxes (criminals, illegal aliens, people who are paid "under the table") will now pay Missouri taxes every time they buy something at the cash register.
  3. Is the system absolutely and perfectly fair? No. That's because no system of taxation is absolutely and perfectly fair, but in many ways it's a lot more fair and reasonable than the current system. 
  4. Is this system better than the current system? Now that's up for debate. A lot of it depends on how you look at at. The truth is nobody really knows the answer, because nothing like this has ever been implemented anywhere in the world before. It is truly a unique and different idea that has yet to be tried. Now this idea is growing in popularity, and in time somebody will try it. It may be another U.S. state, or it may be a completely different country, but somebody somewhere is going to try this eventually. When they do there is a very strong likelihood that state or country is going to experience some economic growth and an increase in jobs. So the question is should Missouri be the first to try it? That is the question before the Missouri state legislature now.  It's a question that should get a fair hearing and does not deserve to be crushed prematurely by rogue episcopal newspapers leaving Missouri Catholics with the false impression that no good Catholic can support this.
The Catholic Knight holds to the position that issues of taxes and economics are secondary compared to the far more pressing social issues of abortion and gay-marriage.  I think I'm in good company, as the pope holds to a similar point of view.  That being said, I am certain that good Catholics can hold good-faith positions on both sides of the Missouri Jobs Act.  This is an issue that should be up for healthy debate in which Catholics are free to support or oppose without feeling bullied by rogue newspapers claiming episcopal representation.

Now there are a few issues that are of direct concern to Catholics, which I will attempt to address fairly here.  The first has to do with the accusation that Catholic parents would be forced to pay sales tax on the tuition for Catholic schools.  This accusation is completely false according to Carl Bearden, the Executive Director of United For Missouri, who points out that under the current legislation proposed no charitable organization will be made to collect the sales tax and no taxes will be collected on any level of education.  Meanwhile, the Messenger painted a completely different picture, leading readers to believe churches and religious schools would be taxed.  This is misleading.

The Messenger also leads readers to believe that the poor would be taxed disproportionately.  As pointed out above, this is simply not the case, as the extremely poor would pay no tax at all, and those who spend at levels just above that would pay an extremely low average sales tax, compared to people with higher incomes and spending, once the prebate is factored in.  Also as pointed out above, the legislation rewards thrift.  So people who shop at second hand stores, garage sales, swap meets, flea markets, and so on will not pay any state sales tax whatsoever.  The legislation encourages the poor to save their money by buying second hand items whenever possible.  Once again, the Messenger gets it wrong and misleads readers into false information about the bill.

As I pointed out above, churches and private charities will pay no taxes under the current form of the bill.  In Tennessee, which has no state income tax, charitable giving is much higher than Missouri, even though Missouri has a specific income tax deduction for charitable giving.  In other words, Tennessee Catholic parishes are collecting more tithes per family than Missouri parishes.  Yet the Messenger would have you believe churches will lose money under the Missouri Jobs Act.  Once again we have misleading information from the Messenger.

Finally, the Messenger paints the picture that Missouri's public services will suffer under the proposed legislation, that revenue will be cut, and there simply won't be enough money to go around anymore.  Well, that's a pretty bold assumption when you consider that not even the State Auditor Tom Schweich could make such a claim.  Schweich admitted that the cost or savings to the state could not be determined at this time.  However, we can look at other nearby states that have eliminated their income tax in favor of a sales tax, and what we see is that indeed these states do have the necessary revenue to keep their public services operational and sufficiently funded.  Proponents of the Missouri Jobs Act never claimed it was a panacea to solve all of Missouri's financial woes.  What they claim is that the legislation will simplify the tax code, eliminate the need for Missourians to report their income to the state, attract more jobs to the state, and be just as fair to the poor as the current system if not more so.

Yes, Missouri Catholics CAN support the Fair Tax.  They can also choose not to support it.  It's a matter for an informed conscience and open debate.  Catholics can hold good-faith positions on both sides of the issue, and still be good Catholics in good standing with the Church, and I dare say remain in good standing with the Catholic bishops of Missouri.  Again, it would be helpful if Missouri's bishops would publicly address this issue themselves, since the MCC has already seen fit to address it for them in such a troubling and confusing way.  Until then I want to encourage my fellow Catholic Missourians to get both sides of the story, look into this matter carefully, and not be bullied by rogue Catholic newspaper columnists who claim to be speaking for the bishops of Missouri.  But you don't need to take my word for it.  If you want to know what your bishop really thinks, write him a letter and just ask.  "Dear Bishop, Is it possible for a Catholic to hold a good faith position on either side of the debate surrounding the Missouri Jobs Act?"  The Catholic Knight says "yes," while the Messenger seems to say "no."  Maybe it's time for Missouri's Catholic bishops to research both sides of the debate and speak for themselves on the matter.