These days, bipartisanship can seem a difficult goal. Americans are increasingly divided, and the media is increasingly quick to fit issues into typical left-vs.-right, Democrat-vs.-Republican molds. But sometimes we come across such a common-sense solution to the problems of the day that the ideological gap can be bridged and both parties can enthusiastically get behind it. The bill currently making its way through the state legislature, proposing an Earned Income Tax Credit for Connecticut, is one such solution. The Yale College Democrats and the Yale College Republicans stand together in strong support of it.
The EITC is an antipoverty measure that allows low-wage workers and their families to get some money back on income taxes. The amount available through the credit varies depending on income level and number of children. The program thus allows low-income workers to pay less in taxes, or in some cases, to get a tax refund. A federal EITC has been in place since 1975. Eighteen states, including every other state in New England, have enacted state EITCs to complement the federal program.
The EITC has a long bipartisan history. The federal EITC was first enacted under Ford, then progressively expanded by the Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations. On the state level, Democratic legislators have often been the strongest proponents of the program, but the majority of state EITCs have been signed into law by Republican governors. Both Democratic and Republican public officials at state and national levels have reached across the aisle to support the credit. We hope that by similarly coming together students can help pass the program in Connecticut this year.
There are many reasons the EITC has enjoyed broad bipartisan support, but the most basic is this: it works. No other program on the state or federal level has been more successful at fighting poverty. In 2002, the federal EITC lifted 4.9 million people out of poverty, including 2.7 million children. A Connecticut EITC would put approximately $44 million in the hands of our state’s low-income workers, helping more than 150,000 families achieve self-sufficiency.
The EITC empowers people by rewarding work. The scale of the tax credit is dependent on income level and family size and provides incentives to employment greater than those provided by other means-based welfare programs. By linking size of the credit to the amount earned under qualified levels, families with low incomes receive larger credits the more they earn. When household income reaches defined targets, the credit decreases as the family moves further from poverty. Instead of depleting state coffers and shifting the burden to taxpayers, the EITC incentive structure provides tangible economic benefit to local businesses and the state. Low-wage workers are more likely to re-invest money they earn back into the local economy than any other group.
The EITC’s effectiveness, empowering nature and economic stimulus are powerful reasons for any state to enact the program. But Connecticut is a state where this reform is particularly overdue. Not only is it the wealthiest state in the country, it is also the state where the gap between rich and poor is growing the fastest. During the 1990s, when the national poverty rate was decreasing, Connecticut’s rose from 2.9 percent to 7.1 percent. Part of the reason this is happening is Connecticut’s tax system, under which the poorest families pay more than twice the percentage of their income as the richest families. If we are committed to eliminating poverty in our state, the current tax code clearly demands reform.
Thankfully, students are not content with the status quo. Our groups and others such as Project Opportunity have joined with students across Connecticut to lobby our government to commit itself to the fight against poverty. We are joined in this effort by statewide organizations such as Connecticut Voices for Children and the Connecticut Association for Human Services.
Thanks in part to this coalition, we have already seen results. Student volunteers have completed substantial research, including developing detailed profiles and IDs for all 187 state legislators. We have met with many key legislators, including State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, whose strong support and sponsorship of the legislation has been pivotal. We led the successful effort to pass a resolution in the New Haven Board of Aldermen last month supporting the EITC. Yet there is still much work to be done.
Yale students of all political stripes should get behind the proposal to create a Connecticut Earned Income Tax Credit. We need to make the case to our state’s elected officials — both Democrat and Republican — that the EITC is a common-sense solution whose time has come. Bipartisanship has to start somewhere, so let’s start it here.
Brendan Gants is a sophomore in Morse College and president of the Yale College Democrats. Richard Kearney is a junior in Pierson College and president of the Yale College Republicans.