- 5:05 pm - Fri, Nov 15, 2013
- 1 note
Taxation with Discrimination
The McDonnell administration has doubled down on its antipathy toward LGBT Virginians (with the Family Foundation claiming credit in an email blast). Last Friday the Virginia Department of Taxation announced a new state tax policy that discriminates against married same-sex couples by denying their ability to file joint state tax returns. To make matters worse, the new policy also imposes additional paperwork and accounting requirements on Virginia businesses. Whether you’re a supporter of equality, a supporter of business, or both, the solution is clear: this new policy has got to go.
Instead of embracing the U.S. Supreme Court decision that found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, Virginia has signaled its continued opposition to basic fairness by singling out married same-sex couples for discriminatory treatment under state tax laws. The tax department’s ruling is inconsistent with federal income tax laws and is in conflict with the state law that requires conformity with federal rules. As a result, married same-sex couples in Virginia can file joint tax returns at the federal level, but will have to file as single or head of household at the state level. Moreover, under the announced policy, the married couple will have to recalculate their individual adjusted gross incomes to add back to their income amounts legally deducted under federal law.
Virginia businesses also will suffer. Under the new policy, Virginia businesses that utilize the federal tax deduction that allows employers to claim a federal tax deduction for fringe benefits offered to employees’ spouses and dependents must adjust their state tax filings to reflect the Commonwealth’s refusal to recognize married same-sex couples. No other state has imposed such requirements on businesses. It appears that the intended effect is to discourage businesses from offering such benefits by making their administration particularly onerous.
It is shameful that Virginia continues to deny equality to and impose discriminatory policies on LGBT Virginians. And, in these harsh economic times, it is outrageous that an administration that claims that Virginia is good for business has decided to impose new paperwork and accounting requirements on Virginia businesses, and, particularly on struggling small businesses.
Instead of focusing on discrimination, Governor McDonnell should have taken a lesson from his counterpart in Missouri. Like Virginia, the Missouri constitution only recognizes a marriage between a man and a women. Yet, Missouri’s Governor, Jay Nixon, took the polar opposite approach to addressing the rights of legally married couples under state tax policy. Yesterday, Governor Nixon issued an executive order directing the state’s tax department to accept joint returns from married same-sex couples. This common sense, inclusive response should serve as a model for all states that currently deny marriage equality.
Unfortunately, the McDonnell administration again chose to embrace the discriminatory option. This new rule has helped Virginia solidify its disgraceful standing as a national leader in hostility toward LGBT residents. While the federal lawsuit (Harris v. McDonnell) that the ACLU and Lambda Legal filed to bring marriage equality to Virginia ultimately will compel the Commonwealth to end its discriminatory treatment of same-sex couples, neither Virginia residents nor Virginia businesses should have to wait for the federal courts to act to assure them fair treatment under the law.
By Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia
- 4:54 pm - Thu, Sep 12, 2013
Constitution Day: What Should We Celebrate?
On September 17th, we will celebrate the 226th birthday of our Constitution. But what precisely should we celebrate?
In the summer of 1787, the founders created a remarkable framework for our democracy — but their document was deeply flawed.
Individual liberty was not protected from the power of government in the original Constitution submitted for ratification. The founders had to add a Bill of Rights to reflect a broader vision of freedom.
Even with the Bill of Rights, the Constitution remained flawed — it protected slavery and it denied women basic rights including the right to vote.
The Constitution we celebrate today, a document guaranteeing equality before the law, required a bloody civil war before amendments brought black Americans within the Constitution.
It took more than 175 years after the Constitution was written before civil rights laws outlawed discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. And, it took over 175 years before the Voting Rights Act invalidated Virginia’s constitutionally imposed poll tax and literacy test.
What is true for the struggle for racial equality is also true about the struggle for other liberties.
It was not until 1920 that the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote. This was not due to the wisdom of the founders and the original Constitution, but to the struggle in the streets that followed. In Virginia, a report issued in 1941 concerning the poll tax and other barriers to voting imposed on black voters by Virginia’s 1902 Constitution said that “fear of large numbers of Negro women voters” fueled opposition to the women’s suffrage amendment that was “decisively rejected” by the General Assembly and not officially ratified by our legislature until 1952 – more than three decades after it became part of the Constitution.
If the framers knowingly left out blacks and women, they didn’t even consider the rights of LGBT people, children, students, prisoners, the mentally ill, immigrants and those with physical disabilities. For nearly all of our history, these groups were largely unprotected by the Constitution. But one by one, they and their advocates have fought to have the Constitution and Bill of Rights apply to them.
But what happens when the government violates the Constitution — when it makes a law restricting free speech or religious liberty?
The conventional answer is that the courts will step in. But courts don’t act on their own. They are powerless to fulfill their function unless an aggrieved person challenges the constitutional violation.
In 1910 the NAACP was established, followed in 1920 by the ACLU. They gradually developed the resources to challenge constitutional violations on behalf of people who could not have done it alone: Tennessee school teacher John Scopes would not likely have challenged the law making it a crime to teach evolution without the help of the ACLU and its volunteer attorney, Clarence Darrow.
And it’s not likely that Oliver Brown could have challenged school segregation in 1950 without the Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP.
So when we celebrate our Constitution, we celebrate not only the remarkable document drafted 226 years ago at the Philadelphia Convention, and not just those who first penned rights on to parchment.
We also celebrate the men and women who took that document seriously, who fought to make those rights a reality and expand its protections to those left out — who risked their lives to fight for the constitutional rights of all Americans.
We celebrate Frederick Douglass in the 19th Century and Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s “color line” in the 20th Century. We celebrate Oliver Brown, who bravely walked his daughter Linda to their neighborhood school, previously restricted by law to white children.
We celebrate Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo and the murdered civil rights workers who were dumped in a Mississippi dam in the summer of ‘64.
We celebrate Barbara Rose Johns and the students at Moton High School who challenged massive resistance. We celebrate Richard and Mildred Loving who simply wanted the freedom to marry and sought help from lawyers who became the founders of the Virginia ACLU.
And we celebrate those who had the vision to create organizations like the NAACP and the ACLU that make it possible to enforce the Constitution and allow people to assert and defend their constitutional rights, and challenge government abuses.
- 3:34 pm - Tue, Aug 6, 2013
Community and Faith Leaders Urge a Humane Budget: an Open Letter to Our Senators
Community and faith leaders in metro-Richmond are expressing concern this week that sequestration and other federal budget cuts are disproportionately hurting the poor and vulnerable in our community.
In a letter delivered to Senators Warner and Kaine, the faith and community leaders urge the Senators to stand firm in protecting human needs and social safety net programs from cuts in their budget negotiations this fall. The letter also urges Pentagon savings. Both Senators serve on the Senate Budget Committee.
A wide range of respected faith, community and policy leaders have signed on to the letter, which is being circulated by the Richmond Peace Education Center. Representatives of the Peace Center and other agencies will meet with Senator Kaine, and a top aide to Senator Warner, this month.
The letter is below, followed by a list of signatories.
Dear Senator Warner and Senator Kaine,
As faith and community leaders in Virginia, we are deeply concerned about budget trends that are hurting our communities. We are particularly concerned that projected cuts will hurt disproportionately the poor and vulnerable in our society.
For example, if sequester cuts continue this year, 10,900 children and mothers in Virginia will go hungry without the WIC program, 2,287 low-income families will lose rental housing vouchers, and $14 million will be cut from Title 1 K-12 funding for schools in low-income communities. We are further concerned that the President’s budget proposal would cut Social Security payments over the next ten years.
Senator Warner, we appreciate the role you played on the Senate Budget Committee in crafting the budget resolution that recently passed the Senate. We remain concerned, however, that any final agreement on federal spending and revenues will be felt most harshly by those who can least afford it.
We hope both of you, as Virginia Senators, will work to ensure that negotiations focus on:
Increased Revenue: The current system of tax expenditures—through loopholes, credits, deductions and other benefits—disproportionately favors the wealthy. The numerous tax exemptions in the tax code are also exorbitantly expensive, costing about $1.1 trillion a year. We urge you to support positive tax reform which increases taxes on the wealthy while protecting refundable tax credits for low-income earners.
Smart Pentagon savings: The Pentagon budget, which has grown by about 50 percent in real terms in the last decade, is still projected to be higher ten years from now than it was during most of the Cold War and the Vietnam War. Our nation needs to find more savings in that area while also ensuring that we have appropriate transition assistance for communities that may be impacted by these changes.
As you participate in Senate deliberations on how to balance our federal budget, we urge you to focus on the following top line priorities:
1) Protecting human needs and social safety net programs from cuts
2) Raising revenues without harming low-income earners or the progressivity of the tax code
3) Finding smart Pentagon savings of at least $1 trillion over ten years.
4) Reinvesting in programs to assist communities in transition and to build new economic opportunities
We look forward to sending a delegation of some of those who have signed below to discuss these issues in person with you.
Signatures from Community and Faith Leaders:
• Parker Agelasto, Councilman, City Council of Richmond, VA
• Rev. Jonathon Barton, General Minister, Virginia Council of Churches, Richmond, VA
• Rev. Benjamin P. Campbell, Pastoral Director, Richmond Hill, Richmond, VA
• Rev. David Brunk, Pastor, West Richmond Church of the Brethren, Richmond, VA
• Betsy Carr, Delegate, Virginia General Assembly House of Delegates
• *Sandra Cook, Chairperson, Virginia Organizing, Virginia
• *Heather Crislip, Executive Director, Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME), Richmond, VA
• Rev. James C. Griffin, Pastor, St. Mark’s Catholic Church, Chesapeake, VA
• *Marco Grimaldo, CEO & President, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Richmond, VA
• Jane Helfrich, CEO, Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity, Richmond, VA
• Rev. David Hindman, Pastor, Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church, Ashland, VA
• Rev. Rodney Hunter, Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, Richmond, Va.
• Denna Joy, Clerk, Richmond Friends Meeting, Richmond, VA
• Rev. Daniel Klem, Pastor, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Norfolk, VA
• Ms. Karen Legato, Executive Director, Fan Free Clinic, Richmond, VA
• Rev. Canon J. Fletcher Lowe, Retired Director - Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Richmond, VA
• Patricia Owen, Summer Minister, First Unitarian Church, Richmond, VA
• Rebecca Oxenreider, Minister of Human Concerns, St. Mary Catholic Church, Richmond, VA
• Rev. James Payne, Retired Director - Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Richmond, VA
• Sheila Pleasants, Executive Director, Southside Child Development Center, Chesterfield, VA
• *Richmond Mennonite Fellowship, Richmond, VA
• Rabbi Ben Romer, Congregation Or Ami, Richmond, VA
• *Dr. Adria Scharf, Executive Director, Richmond Peace Education Center, Richmond, VA
• Rev. Isabel Steilberg, Rector, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Newport News, VA
• Neil Walsh, Director of Social Ministry, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Norfolk, VA
• Rev. Dr. Janet Winslow, Pastor, Bon Air Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA
- 3:03 pm
As coordinator of the Campaign for Children’s Mental Health at Voices for Virginia’s Children, I regularly talk to parents who are struggling to help their children with mental health issues. They are often extremely frustrated because they cannot find the treatment that their child needs in their community, or there is a long wait list for services, or their insurance won’t pay for the type of treatment their child needs.
Compounding these frustrations, many parents with whom I talk feel isolated. They don’t know other families struggling with children’s mental health disorders. They may not be receiving support from friends or their child’s school. Their families’ lives have been thrown into disarray – emotionally, logistically, and financially – as they try to find help for the child who needs it while continuing to work and take care of other children.
One question I often hear is, “Why it is so difficult to get help when your child has a mental health problem as opposed to a physical health problem?” The answer is complex, and the Campaign for Children’s Mental Health is working to improve access to services through a variety of strategies.
The key to improving access to children’s mental health services – through every strategy we are using – is mobilizing the families who have experience with this issue. And there are more of you than you might think. Did you know that 1 in 5 children experience a mental health disorder? Chances are you DO know other families who have a child with ADHD, depression, anxiety, or another mental health challenge, but because of the stigma that still exists, you and they have never made the connection.
Part of what we do at the Campaign is help families realize the difference they can make by speaking out, and we equip them to do so. For example:
• Telling your stories can reduce the stigma of mental illness; together, we can help reduce the isolation so many families and children feel, and make it okay to ask for help.
• Walking advocates through the barriers your family has encountered as you’ve tried to seek help enables us to identify the policies that need to be changed or the types of services that need to be created.
• Sharing your experience with legislators can help them realize the real-life implications of the funding decisions they make.
One parent we’ve worked with at the Campaign is Shannon Haworth. After talking to lawmakers in Washington, DC, she was asked in a radio interview last summer what it feels like to advocate. She replied, “You feel like you’re just a parent in a sea of other parents who need help, and so when you’re able to talk to people and tell your specific story and have people listen, it empowers you.”
Please join the Campaign for Children’s Mental Health at www.1in5kids.org so that all families who struggle with the children’s mental health system can be similarly empowered.
- 12:34 pm - Thu, Apr 11, 2013
Destination Unknown: Navigating Virginia’s New Transportation Funding Package - and Potential Potholes
Low-income Virginians will pay a greater share of their income in new taxes than wealthier Virginians under the transportation funding legislation adopted by the General Assembly last week, according to a new, comprehensive analysis of the package from The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a non-profit, independent fiscal and economic policy organization based in Richmond.
Under the transportation funding package:
- Low-income people pay more. People earning less than $21,000 will pay three to six times more of their income in new taxes than people with incomes that top $509,000.
- In Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, low-income
households will pay between five and eight times more of
- Responsibility moves away from drivers. Most of the new revenue would come from activities unrelated to driving, dramatically shifting the responsibility for funding transportation away from those who use the highways the most.
-Statewide, less than 10 percent of the new tax revenue is
from driving-related sources, such as the gas tax.
-In Northern Virginia, the new regional taxes in the package
come entirely from sources unrelated to driving.
-In Hampton Roads, 64 percent of the new taxes come from
sources unrelated to driving.
- Virginia schools may not receive much new help. While the prospect of dedicated education funding was used to help pass the plan, whether it will actually result in any meaningful new funding for Virginia’s schools is unclear. Furthermore, while the share of sales tax revenue dedicated to education gets a one-time bump, the share diverted to transportation grows over time.