California (PT) – I had a chance to sit and talk with Dan Johnson, Executive Director of We Do Better. A fast growing organization aiming to enact the types of change we’ll be discussing here in this interview.
We Do Better’s mission is;
“To promote the freedom and well-being of all Americans by maximizing the quality and accessibility of public services and accountability in their provision.”
We’re going to be discussing a bill of legislation that is being introduced in California. Also, one from Arizona that is very similar.
Some of the information of our conversation is edited for readability and length. If you do not have the time to read the whole transcription, but can instead listen?
You may do so here;
Without further ado:
James Job: I want to ask you to describe from your experience what the Universal Charitable Credit (UCC) bill for California is to you, in your own words?
Dan Johnson: There are lots of ways of providing what we call public services, for addressing human needs. They include governments, they include non-profits, or for-profits, informal groups, etc.
Most public services are provided by “We the people.” Unfortunately though, the vast majority of our resources are going to the government… Federal, State and Local.
So, what the UCC does is allows taxpayers to direct just under a quarter of their taxes to any nonprofit organization that addresses human needs. Whether that’s a Homeless Shelter, Domestic Violence Shelter, or Food Bank… It doesn’t matter. They can direct those dollars wherever they see a need, that they would like to help address.
What this does, is it empowers the taxpayer, because that person can now make sure that their dollars are being used wisely, and they have a direct impact on where those dollars are spent. And then, of course, it impacts the people receiving those services. They provide a better service, at less cost…
Even in the case, for example, of the Oroville Dam disaster. It was three nonprofits that told the government five years earlier; “Hey, your dam is about to break?” And because the government didn’t listen, several hundred thousand lives were in danger. If people were able to direct money to those nonprofits, several hundred thousand people in and around Oroville wouldn’t have been put in danger.
There are many areas where these non-profits absolutely shine. Unfortunately people are not able to fund them, and this bill, frankly, solves that problem.
JJ: When you say just under a quarter of income… If I’m a resident of the State of California, of my State income tax withheld from my paycheck, I can choose to spend up to just under a quarter of that on whatever nonprofit organization I see fit?
DJ: Right, so the bill itself allows you to direct specifically $500 of your state tax dollars, so if you’re a lower income taxpayer, you might be able to direct direct up to your entire tax bill, if you’re higher income taxpayer maybe less? But it averages out at about 25% of the average Californians’ income tax bill.
JJ: Okay, so it’s technically $500 per person. Another thing I want ask;
The State Government must hate this, Right? They’re obviously doing spending in different ways that we frequently do not like, and that’s why we come up with these bills to help the people… What do you see as the blowback from the government? Do you see the bill even gaining any ground?
DJ: This bill is actually based on the Arizona Charitable Tax Credit, which for the past 20 years or so has allowed taxpayers in Arizona to direct, now, it’s up to about $400 of their (State) tax dollars to nonprofit organizations.
In that case, organizations that specifically serve the poor.
And that bill, despite most of the politicians and government in Arizona hating it, has actually lasted. Not only lasted, but has been doubled as recently as 2016 by both Democrats and Republicans.
This is an interesting concept, because it is the government that is getting less money because of this bill… Yet the government is doubling it. And the reason why, is because the taxpayers love it, nonprofits love it, and when those two groups (who are usually against each other) come together to defend a piece of legislation, that legislation has serious staying power.
So that’s one point, on the other point;
If it hurts government revenue, but people are being taken care of better, and people’s needs are addressed better… I think we should be putting that before government revenue, before even nonprofit revenue in this case.
So there’s a moral question here that the State of California has to answer… And the question is; Are they more interested in the outcomes for people in their state, or more interested in the dollars? And that of course, is a question that is up to the state of California and representatives of that State.
So will it go forward? That simply depends on whether people in California call up their representatives and get enough done.
JJ: I wanted to talk about the bill that Arizona has already implemented. So, there probably has been a little bit of data to come out of Arizona? Do you happen to have any numbers off the top of your head?
Dan: Absolutely. So, we’ll start small again. We spoke with the Executive Director of this woman’s shelter in Flagstaff that has existed for the past 28 years. Only recently taxpayers in Arizona started directing some of their dollars from the state government, to the shelter. the shelter gets about 80% of the funding from federal and state grants.
This guy I was interviewing, the very next thing he says; “Is that nonprofits have stop relying on federal and state money.”
I thought that was interesting, so I asked him why is that? And he said;
“The department justice grants come with a couple of interesting strings, some that most people don’t realize, some who would think are reasonable.”
Such as, they prohibit the nonprofits from spending any of that money on pets.
This guy told me, he said. “The problem with that, is that 50% of women will not leave their abusive partner because they can’t bring their pet.”
They (the victim) don’t want to leave that animal with the same, pardon my language… asshole, right? They feel bad about that, so they won’t leave.
Well with the tax credit dollars this nonprofit was able to actually build a little place for pets, and increase the number of women that are able to use their shelter.
That’s just one example of a nonprofit taking away the the control of politicians and bureaucrats over people’s needs, and actually results in a huge advantage to the very people we need to help.
When you broaden that to some bigger numbers you find that in 1997 this credit was very, very unknown. Only about 2700 taxpayers there actually took. And they directed about $450,000 to charity.
But last year, and we just had the numbers come out… The taxpayers in Arizona directed $52 million to deserving charities in the state of Arizona! With up to about 136,000 taxpayers using the credit.
So, you imagine what $52 million does for organizations that usually have an overhead of about 30% versus the average government agency overhead of about 50%?
Imagine what that does for people in the State of Arizona, well Arizona doesn’t have to imagine it, and we’re hoping that California doesn’t either.
The best way to ensure the needs of the communities in California, and in other States are addressed, is to allow the people to direct their money towards a need they know must be built.
JJ: I’m digging this, this sounds really like a no brainer. But I’m going to just throw a libertarian point of view out right now. Just for the sake of argument; “Taxation is theft. Why should I even want to pay taxes.”
DJ: Okay, so the best way to respond to this, and this may not even end up in the article.
DJ: If you’re going to say that, you need to understand what the purposes of taxation are in first place, the history of taxation, and I’m not just talking about in the United States. I’m talking about the history of the very concept of taking money from some people and distributing to others. This goes back actually to the ancient Sumerians. The very first recorded civilization.
The argument from the Sumerian government to the Sumerian people was; “We’re under attack! We are in a war and if you don’t give us a few dollars? Everybody dies!”
Everybody then went; “Sounds kind of reasonable. Okay.”
Of course, after the war was over, the tax collectors didn’t want to give up that money. So they started finding other places to direct and divert that money, and they started using taxation as the collective way of addressing human needs.
Well, that has expanded and been adopted by basically every civilized society on Earth. What a person that argues… “Taxation is theft, and let’s just end it all?” Needs to understand is, the reason for taxes is to address human needs, whether it’s safety, putting food on your table, fresh water, whatever it is… Those taxes were designed as a collective way of addressing those needs.
So if you ever want to have less taxes because you would say, probably rightly that a lot of those taxes aren’t going to address human needs? You need to direct dollars in a way, and to the organizations, to the people that are addressing human needs right now. And are doing better than the government.
If you don’t do that. The need exists, you get rid of the program. And then what, who’s taking care of them? So at the end of the day, if you want less taxes because you don’t believe the money is going where it needs to go. You need to be directing your money to where it needs to go. And those needs to be addressed, or you’ll continue to be taxed because that is the only way people believe we can come together and solve problems.
JJ: I agree. And, I’ve never been given a detailed itemized list of where my taxes went that year. You know what I mean?
With this idea that we can go ahead and say, You know what, I don’t want the State to have as much money. I want $500 of my State income tax every year to go towards the leading homeless shelter in my community. Where the homeless population is second highest (Fresno County) in the nation.
Final thoughts here, conclude. What do you think is best for the for the people to do or how do we get involved in and help push forward.
DJ: Well, at the end of the day, I don’t get to decide what’s best for the people of (any) State, City or County. All I want is for them to be able to decide. I want them to be able to decide with the very dollars that they go out and they work hard to make.
I want them to be able to decide how those are spent, and how those are addressed in their community. So this is up to California… We create the legislation, we suggest that the people should be empowered in Cities and States.
So, Senate Bill 1485 will be heard in the State Governance Committee on May, 9 at 11am in Room 112 and the contact information for the Senators on the State Governance Committee are available at wedobetter.org (also Senators, and elected officials information will be listed below, there you can also get involved in your own State).
JJ: How much did We Do Better have in playing a role in this bill?
DJ: So we had a coalition in California that we led. Which consisted of the California Republican of Women, a couple democratic voter groups, and an independent voter group. It was that coalition that really made the bill happen.
We wrote it, we contacted the representative to ask him to introduce it, but it never would have been given a bill number if people in California hadn’t spoke up. And because they did, It’s now going to be heard in front of the Committee.
I hope that Dan and I were able to hold a valuable conversation that helps fill the void and inform Californians, and the rest of America about SB 1485 set to be heard early May in California.
It should be a great concern of the people to essentially defund the politicians that are currently doing a horrible job representing we the people. And prop each other up on our own.
If you are a Californian and would like to express your appreciation, or disdain for SB 1485 a list of all California State Senators, their jurisdiction, and contact information can be found here, or here.
Dan Johnson entered activism at 18. Over the years, he grew PANDA, People Against the NDAA, into the largest movement resisting a Federal law at the local level in the United States. In the meantime, he wrote for The Huffington Post, Policymic, Occupy.com, Western Journalism, BenSwann.com, and many others. He has spoken at nearly 75 events, and has appeared on numerous radio and TV shows, including Coast to Coast AM, Liberty Roundtable, and RT America’s Breaking the Set. He has extensive experience in public speaking, copy-editing, organizational management, legalese (unfortunately), social media, and dealing with every level of government. He is now the Executive director of We Do Better.