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What’s Over The Horizon? A Call For New Taxes to Help the Poor

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Rev. Hurmon E. Hamilton, Jr. President of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and Sr. Pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church USA, wonders why the state makes a distinction between legal immigrants and legal citizens when it comes to health care:

And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? Matthew 16:26 (New Living Translation)

In my last blog post, I joined the voice of GBIO to that of Cardinal O’Malley and the Roman Catholic Church in asking the administration and legislative leadership - in a time of deep budget cuts - to take a deeper breath, dig deeper and find the means to provide health care coverage to over 28,000 legal, tax-paying immigrants. A couple of weeks ago this is exactly what happened. The administration and legislature, with generous support from Partners Health Care and courageous commitment from Celticare, provided coverage for not 28,000 but for almost 31,000 legal immigrants. On behalf of GBIO leaders and institutions as well as all who love justice in our Commonwealth, I congratulate those noted above for finding a way.

There are however, real limitations to the coverage that the Commonwealth has been able to provide. Most disturbing is the requirement that struggling consumers pay $50 co-pays on all brand name prescription drugs.

Moreover, the challenges of next year’s fiscal reality coupled with these limitations force us to ask some difficult questions about the very soul of our Commonwealth.

What does it say about our Commonwealth that, in a severe financial crisis, we created a false choice between legal immigrants and legal citizens regarding health care benefits? Why was it optional to eliminate coverage for a group of people solely because the word “immigrant” is part of the description of their legal status? How did the birth place of a nation, founded by and from immigration, find the audacity to suggest such a thing? A serious crisis always brings to the surface what lies at the bottom of one’s soul. The fact that we so easily singled out legal immigrants in a severe financial crisis reveals that perhaps we still have some unsettling prejudice in our state’s soul. Or, at the very least, we have drunk the national proverbial Kool Aid –filled with concentrated political toxicity around “immigrants” by “immigrants.” (Every American citizen –- except for Native Americans — is an immigrant). May God help us in Massachusetts find a moral vaccine from this dangerous epidemic of the human soul.

As we look over the horizon to the future, what do we see? The reality of a severely deteriorated fiscal picture for 2010 means that once again our soul will be tested. Once again, we will have to answer the question posed by Jesus in the scripture noted above, “What will one give in exchange for one’s soul” (adapted from KJV)?

All indications foretell us that the financial crisis of the next fiscal year will transcend the one we just worked through. The health of our soul, the strength of our common values will sustain us if we do not forsake them in the days to come. Here is an early test. What will be the basic political question of 2010? Will it be: “What more should we cut?” Perhaps it will be: “Who should we cut out?” Will we cut out the legal immigrants, the disabled, the mentally ill, the addict, the hungry, the poor, the child in our public schools? What will we, the Commonwealth, give in exchange for our soul – while using the disastrous fiscal reality as an excuse? There is another way. Let us begin today, in this fiscal year, to ask the question: “How do we raise the money needed to protect the vulnerable in the 2010 budget?”

How do we raise the dollars needed to not make false choices between legal immigrants and legal citizens? How do we not surrender to the world as it is, but rise, and seize this opportunity to shape the world as it ought to be? Yes, this means finding the courage, the conviction, the soul strength to begin a reasonable discussion about raising taxes. Neither political fear nor dogmatic political ideology is a sufficient exchange for the soul of our Commonwealth. Our collective soul, the very essence of our Commonwealth, our sacred values is worth more than any political party.

Therefore, let us shape a package of tax increases that ask something from all of us, but more from those of us who have the most. Let all of us chip in, each one according to his or her capacity, in order to keep schools open, teachers teaching, police and fire personnel working. Let us all sacrifice, to insure that the hungry are fed, the mentally ill and disabled are cared for; and the sick are tended to without respect to whether you are a “legal immigrant” or a “legal citizen.” Today, I call on the Governor, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate President to protect the soul of our Commonwealth, just as they did by finding away to provide health care for more than 31,000 legal immigrants. I urge them to lead us into the future with soul intact and values shaping our vision. Begin the work now on a common sense, values–driven broad package of taxes in order that we not lose our soul for political expediency next year. For indeed, there is nothing worth more, than our soul!

This program aired on September 20, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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