Have you heard black Americans might lose the right to vote in 2007? It's nonsense, but it's caused a lot of us anxiety. While we're not about to lose the right to cast a ballot, we - and all Americans - stand to lose the economic freedom of last year's tax cuts.
In the case of voting rights, the 15th Amendment to the Constitution ratified in 1870 guarantees our ability to participate in elections. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 reinforced the Constitution at a time when Jim Crow laws in the South erected barriers that kept many from exercising their rights. The Act requires southern states to submit voting law changes to federal scrutiny and can impose election monitors if there are serious concerns about infringements of voting rights.
It was Camille Cosby, the wife of comedian Bill Cosby, who gave this myth credibility. On July 8, 1998, USA Today published a commentary by her that erroneously claimed, due to the 2007 expiration of the Voting Rights Act, "Congress once again will decide whether African-Americans will be allowed to vote." This commentary regularly circulates on the Internet.
The Act was originally supposed to expire in 1970, but it was extended by Congress in 1970, 1975 and 1982. If it does expire in 2007 and our voting rights are threatened at a later date, a simple court order can re-impose the Act's protections.
Our right to vote is not threatened. While we're dispelling myths, let me also tell you: the Post Office does not destroy unsold Black Heritage stamps at the end of each February, Snapple is not owned by the Ku Klux Klan and clothing designers Tommy Hilfiger and Liz Claiborne did not make anti-black statements on Oprah's television show.
But let me tell you the true story of the disappearing tax cut. We all received a few hundred dollars last fall. If you've done your taxes already, you've probably also noticed this year's tax bill isn't quite as high as it was last year. The tax cuts pushed by the Bush Administration are incrementally lowering tax rates across the board, and phasing out the estate tax that has destroyed so many family businesses.
Cutting taxes stimulated the faltering economy and put it on the mend. The recession we'd been fearing came and went quickly. The tax cuts responsible for the recovery, however, will expire in ten years unless something is done to make them permanent.
That's right. The Bush tax cuts passed last year, cuts that will continue to lower taxes and phase out the death tax by 2010, will snap right back to their Clinton-era levels in 2011. Why? Back in 1990, a provision in the Clinton tax increase made it necessary to obtain at least 60 votes in the Senate to make a tax cut permanent. Strident opposition by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) to continuing the tax cuts has all but made this goal impossible.
Prospects of tax increases in the future are not good for economic growth. Economist Dan Mitchell of The Heritage Foundation notes, "these 'built-in' tax increases lie in wait to ambush the economy in future years. And as we approach 2011, investors, entrepreneurs and small business owners will be forced to lay off workers and reduce production." The National Taxpayers Union suggests that "The idea that taxpayers only needed, or deserved, temporary relief is ridiculous and insulting. Tax and spending increases are rarely temporary and neither should tax relief. The American taxpayer should not be forced to fight for the same concessions twice."
Black Americans are climbing the socioeconomic ladder at an astounding rate. According to statistics compiled by the African-American leadership network Project 21, black median weekly income rose 44% between 1985 and 1997. The number of black businesses more than doubled between 1987 and 1997. This new wealth is at risk should taxes increase. Higher tax rates means less disposable income for savings, investment and education. A revived estate tax in 2011 would renew the threat that a family might be forced to sell the business to pay the taxes after the family elder passes.
Making the Bush tax cuts permanent is the best way to preserve
the economic growth we are now experiencing. It's legislation
that the House of Representatives plans to take up as April 15
approaches. Whether or not it languishes in the Senate, as with
so much other conservative legislation, is up to Majority Leader
Daschle. For the sake of prosperity, and black prosperity in
particular, it's the one bill I hope avoids the Senate logjam.
(Edmund Peterson is the chairman of the national advisory council
of the African-American leadership network Project 21. Comments
may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.