Samantha Waxman has personally benefited from access to wealth through her family. But as a child of teachers and a product of public schools, she took it personally when the Council of the District of Columbia opted to give wealthy estates a special-interest tax break instead of funding education, housing, and other services. She decided to do something about it.
On Friday, May 12, Waxman testified in front of the D.C. Council in favor of the estate tax.
“I urge the Council in the strongest possible terms to leave the estate tax alone,” Waxman said in her prepared testimony. “Do not give millionaires and their heirs a tax break on the backs of poor people in this city.”
Waxman currently co-leads the D.C. chapter leader in Resource Generation, a national network of young people with wealth who organize for the equitable distribution of wealth, land, and power. The chapter is working to ensure that poor and working-class District residents share in the city’s growing prosperity.
The mayor’s proposed budget includes business and estate tax cuts that will cost the city revenue now, at a time of critical need — unless DC Council chooses to delay them. In the proposed budget, people with estates valued at up to $5.5 million will get a special tax break, which will cost the city an estimated $12 million per year in lost revenue, money that could be dedicated towards the plan to end chronic homelessness or adequately fund schools instead.
A number of advocates and organizations came together to press the DC Council to stop the cuts. Spearheading the effort are the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute and Fair Budget Coalition, two organizations that work to ensure that the voices of low-income residents are heard in the budget process. Resource Generation’s DC chapter joined the coalition to demonstrate to elected leaders that wealthy people don’t support sky-high inequality and the racial wealth gap.
“I want to live in a city with public goods and services that provide for everyone’s well-being,” said Waxman. “To make that happen, rich people need to pay their fair share. I need to pay my fair share. And what do I get in return? I get to know that my neighbors can go to the doctor when they get sick. That they can live in safe, affordable housing. That they can drop off their kids at a great school.”
Her message broke through to the D.C. Council. “It’s incredibly powerful when someone who could be in line for a tax cut says ‘Please don’t!’ because they want their taxes to pay for community investments that help us all,” said Ed Lazere, executive director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.
The efforts of Resource Generation’s D.C. chapter to ensure that wealthy people don’t get a special tax break at the expense of crucial social services mirrors a national effort to Defend the Estate Tax, coordinated by the Patriotic Millionaires. Their letter, which will be going public this week, already has over 600 signatories, including 75 who will personally pay the estate tax, as a parent or inheritor.
“Will you support critical programs that promote wide-based prosperity,” Waxman asked the DC Council. “Or will you promote dynastic wealth and increasing inequality? It’s up to you. I know where I stand.”
Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and a co-editor of Inequality.org. He’s the author of the recent book Born on Third Base.