The Story of Broke couldn’t come at a more relevant time. Before Thanksgiving, the Congressional Supercommittee will propose a plan on how to bridge a $1.2 trillion budget gap – and if they don’t, the country will face a series of draconian, across-the-board budget cuts.
With sky-high unemployment and our social safety net in tatters, it’s no wonder many of us feel a collective sense of desperation. But as Annie points out, we aren’t broke: “Spending billions on fighter planes we don’t need or wars with no end, and then saying we’re broke, just isn’t honest.”
We couldn’t agree more. This August, Friends of the Earth launched our new Earth Budget campaign, which seeks to craft a national budget that protects people and the planet while cutting subsidies for polluting industries, making polluters pay and ensuring that Wall Street and the richest 1% chip in their fair share. We kicked off our campaign with our Green Scissors 2011 report, which identified over $380 billion in environmentally harmful spending and subsidies. Making these cuts won’t just save taxpayer money; it will also help us transition off the dinosaur economy and build a new and more sustainable one.
This transformation will take public investment, and it means making the right choices. In the last months, Solyndra has received a lot of attention – mostly from detractors of solar energy – but if you look at the Department of Energy loan guarantee program (the only one that is still around, called section 1703), only about $1.2 billion of it goes to renewable energy and transmission, while almost $8 billion goes to dirty coal deals and $22.5 billion goes to dangerous nuclear power. This massive bias against renewable energy is pretty typical of our public spending overall and keeps us addicted to dirty, dangerous energy.
But cutting the bad stuff is just one half of the equation; we also need to look at new revenue sources. And the most obvious place to turn is big corporations – especially polluters and the Wall Street bankers who got us into this mess.
As it turns out, corporate taxes only contribute 7% of federal budget revenue – a measly seven percent! Citizens for Tax Justice recently looked at 280 of America’s most profitable companies and found that 78 of them paid no federal income tax at all in at least one of the last three years. 30 companies paid less than nothing, with Wells Fargo (which also benefitted from the bank bailout) getting a tax subsidy of a cool $18 billion.
Tax reform shouldn’t be about making those who have shouldered most of the load take on even more – but rather about making sure everyone carries their fair share. A few economically just and environmentally beneficial options include:
- Instituting a tax of 0.005 percent on international currency trades. The vast majority of these trades are purely speculative, and this microtax could raise billions each year for global needs like HIV/AIDS and climate adaptation.
- Putting a tax on carbon dioxide pollution, while refunding the vast majority of it to consumers to keep them whole. Rep. Pete Stark’s carbon tax bill would raise almost half a billion for deficit reduction and could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25% in ten years.
- Clamping down on tax havens, which are a large part of the reason why corporations aren’t paying their fair share. Tax dodgers bilk the Treasury out of $100 billion every year. (Learn more about Sen. Carl Levin’s tax dodgers bill)
- Allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire and go back to 2000 levels. These tax expenditures are worth $5.3 trillion over the next 10 years and have starved our budget.
We hope The Story of Broke inspires you to take action, and we invite you to join the thousands of Earth Budget activists that have shown support for a carbon tax, pressured the Super Committee to end handouts to Big Oil, and called for a tax on Wall Street.
Indeed, our country isn’t broke, and budget deficits can be solved without harming the public and the environment. As Annie says, “There is money, it’s ours, and it’s time to invest it right.”
Michelle Chan coordinates Friends of the Earth’s Green Investments project, which brings environmental advocacy to Wall Street.