Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of short essays by Michael Jay Tucker about his recent visit to a conference of progressive and liberal Christians in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Tucker says that the conference, The Lutheran Advocacy Ministry Bishop’s Luncheon and Issues Briefing, was profoundly moving and inspired hope even in him, and he has been a secularist for decades.
We then went to break out sessions. There were two of these. One of them, which was in another room, was “NM needs Dental Therapists,” by Colin Baillio, of Health Action-NM. It turns out there is a new profession, that of Dental Therapist, which is sort of like the Physicians Assistants and Nurse Practitioners who are showing up in other areas of medicine. They are not dentists themselves, but work under the direction of a dentist, and can provide many basic dental services –for example, exams, cleanings, and fillings.
States where Dental Therapists are permitted have better dental health than those that do not, if only because dentists are expensive and tend not to show up in small rural communities. So, the Advocacy Ministry is working with Health Action-NM to lobby the state legislature to make Dental Therapists legal here. I am guessing that the legislature will go along with that. It seems reasonable.
Jenny and Pauline went to the session on dental health. Martha and I stayed in the sanctuary to hear James Jimenez of the group New Mexico Voices for Children talk about what his organization hopes to achieve with the current legislature and governor.
Jimenez explained that his group was begun by three Albuquerque pediatricians who were concerned by the fact that they could treat their patients’ diseases, but not the greater, socially-induced problems that were often far greater dangers to children’s health — like poverty, and systemic violence. So, Voices for Children set out to make a difference in that, primarily by working at the state level.
Jimenez’s talk was titled “Rocket fuel for our moonshot: How we can get there from here.” The “moonshot” is a reference to a statement from the current governor to the effect that we need a moonshot-style effort to benefit the state’s children. He then argued that the “fuel” we’ll need to make that possible is, primarily, money, and the way to get that money is by revising the tax code to make the rich …and corporations…pay more.
I need to provide a little background on that. For the last few years, the state has been governed by a Republican administration, and one which subscribed to a version of the Trickle Down theory. That is, if we just lower taxes on the wealthy and corporations, they’ll make money and that money will “trickle down” to the poor.
Let’s confess, it would seem a commonsense proposition. If you increase costs, then the people and businesses seek ways of avoiding those costs. If that means moving away from state or local, or even Federal taxes, they will do it.
The problem is in the trickle down part. “Trickle down” makes sense in theory, but in practice what actually happens is that when you transfer money to the wealthy (whether individuals or companies), it doesn’t trickle. It freezes solid and stays right where it is, in the pockets of the rich and powerful.
Thus, the grim reality seems to be that taxes may or may not drive away economic development, but tax holidays don’t do any good, either. You might as well impose the taxes and hope for the best. At least you’ll get something, even if it is only in the short run. And who knows? Maybe with the additional services you’ll be able to afford–like, say, public safety and decent schools and a skilled workforce–you’ll be able to attract investment even if you do have taxes.
While Mr. Jimenez did not use that precise logic, or exactly those words in his presentation, he followed the same general path. He noted that for the last eight years, the state had been run by a Republican governor who closely followed a Trickle Down economic theory of state finance–and the result of that was economic stagnation at best, and outright decline at worst. In fact, he said, the state is only now, ten years later, getting back to the number of jobs it had in 2008, when the Bush-Cheney crash took out so much of the economy.
He then made a well-reasoned argument for an increase in taxes, at least for the wealthy and large corporations.
He concluded by noting that we don’t really have a choice. A couple of high profile court cases (two of which merged into one, recently), have made new taxes and more money for the school system inevitable. If the legislature does not address the issue, the courts will. One judge has already indicated that she is more than willing to force the state to impose new taxes to make certain that all communities and all children in New Mexico have equal access to education.
Fortunately, the state now has a Democratic governor and a Democratically dominated legislature. So, the betting is that the courts will not have to get involved.
After the breakout sessions, everyone returned to the Sanctuary for concluding remarks by Ruth Hoffman, and the Lutheran Bishop of the Rocky Mountain Synod, Jim Gonia. Bishop Gonia’s remarks were short (we were running out to time) but he still managed to find a moment to say that Advocacy was, by definition, transformative…for the advocate.
When Esther advocated for her people with her (dangerous) husband, the Shah of Persia, she found new courage and new dignity. When Peter advocated for gentile Christians, he became something more and greater than he had been before.
It was a powerful speech and a fitting ending for the session.
And then, it was time for lunch.
Michael Jay Tucker is the “sort of volunteer editor” of LR Net. He is also a writer and journalist who has written on topics ranging from the Jazz Age to computers. (Among his small claims to fame is that he interviewed Steve Jobs just after that talented if complicated man got kicked out of Apple, and just before the company’s Board came begging him to come back.)
Tucker’s most recent book is Padre: To The Island, a meditation on life and death based on the passing of his own parents.
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