How Tax Reform Can Help Revive Urban Communities, A Special Commentary by Hazel Trice Edney



The nation’s slow financial recovery continues to impact urban communities from New York and Chicago to Houston and Los Angeles, even as these communities – and others around the country – grapple with the pernicious legacy of urban decay.


Many experts are beginning to see the potential for an unexpected lifeline for our nation’s urban centers: an overhaul of the tax code the Washington is contemplating. In fact, a growing number of business and community leaders argue that any overhaul of the tax code should include a provision or provisions that encourage investment in cities that yield economic growth and, above all, good-paying jobs.


In that context, one approach worth considering is the so-called border adjustment tax, an obscure policy with widespread implications. Among other things, the border adjustment tax policy would exempt businesses from paying taxes on products that are produced domestically but exported to other countries. The policy essentially rewards domestic manufacturing, potentially helping contain the nation’s industrial decline.


Of course encouraging companies to make products here in America is good news for our cities, where the factories that for generations provided reliable work for an honest day’s pay have been replaced with fast-food restaurants and big-box stores peddling cheap, imported goods while offering jobs with wages so meager that people are forced to work two or more just to keep food on the table.


The idea of maintaining a level playing field for American workers is long overdue and a priority beyond our urban centers, after decades in which Washington has stood by idly as companies have move jobs overseas to countries with lower taxes but little concerns for worker safety, environmental protection and, in some cases, basic human rights.


With the best chance in years at actually debating and honing out a more competitive tax code here in America, it’s not surprising that the conservative, big money special interests are aggressively fighting the prospective changes. These are the same people and the same industries that have profited handily for years from this gutting of our urban centers.


This crusade against policies that hold the promise of improving the quality of life for millions is led by conservative activists and the notorious Koch Brothers, who are spending millions to protect their profit centers and the same low-end retailers who are driving a growing income disparity in America by paying low wages and withholding quality-of-life benefits.


And who ends up footing the bill when workers can’t afford health care or feeding their families? The American taxpayer, of course.

Making wholesale changes to the tax code is already exceptionally difficult. There’s a reason the last meaningful overhaul of tax policy hasn’t been done in more than 30 years. Creating a more competitive tax environment for manufacturers to invest here is worth the attempt to bring back jobs to our urban centers.

Yet, driven by a desire for greater and greater profits, the Koch Brothers, their cohorts and other opponents of reform will undoubtedly continue their campaigns, insisting that the status-quo tax policies that have contributed to significant economic decline are, in fact, in our best interests.

But for the sake of our fragile urban centers, where African-Americans and others have languished in economic pain, these individuals should be strenuously challenged and fresh ideas must be entertained.


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