Bracing for Cuts, Federations Hold Tongue on Taxes

As 'Fiscal Cliff' Looms, Worries About Social Service Spending

Cuts Looming: Jerry Silverman, chief of the Jewish federations umbrella group, is staying out of the fight over higher taxes for the wealthiest Americans.
ROBERT A. CUMINS/JFNA
Cuts Looming: Jerry Silverman, chief of the Jewish federations umbrella group, is staying out of the fight over higher taxes for the wealthiest Americans.

By Nathan Guttman

Published November 16, 2012, issue of November 23, 2012.
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In 2002, after the Bush administration and Congress approved legislation cutting marginal taxes for 10 years, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a policy organization affiliated with the JFNA, passed a resolution calling on lawmakers to let the cuts expire when that period ended. This would return tax levels to the higher marginal rates in force during the Clinton administration. Under heavy pressure from major donors, JCPA did not repeat the call and has since refrained from making any public statements regarding tax policy.

Similarly, the federation system sat out the debate over Obama’s Affordable Care Act and did not provide lawmakers and communal leaders with a clear view of the Jewish federation system’s opinion on health care reform as a whole, despite the fact that universal health care had been a key issue for local community relations councils for decades.

In July 2011, when federation officials met on Capitol Hill with a group of Democratic senators during last year’s fight over tax and budget cuts, the senators complained angrily when the federation leaders pleaded with them to protect social services. According to JTA, Senators Carl Levin of Michigan and Ben Cardin of Maryland — both Jews with deep personal roots in their home communities — urged JFNA board chair Kathy Manning to help them help JFNA by lobbying against an across-the-board extension of the tax cuts that were about to expire. Continuation of the tax cuts, they explained, would require deeper cuts in government social service spending to make up for the lost revenue. But federation officials declined to take a stand.

In the current discussion, federations are taking on only one relatively small tax issue: a proposal to put a cap on charitable and other tax deductions. Federation officials fear this will lead federation donors to decrease their giving. “This is our big red line,” said William Daroff, JFNA’s vice president for public policy. Daroff added that JFNA recognizes “that there will be cuts” to services but said the group’s advocacy staff has already began talks with White House and Congress staffers to ensure that any such measures “should not disproportionately fall on vulnerable populations.”

JFNA’s annual Jewish Community Budget Letter, which presents lawmakers with the community’s reactions to budget proposals, is currently in preparation. In recent years, the letter focused on the need to maintain foreign aid to Israel, keep charitable tax deductions in place and avoid cuts to social services.

“It is a shame they are only willing to talk about the money-outside and not about revenue and justice of the tax system,” said Hadar Susskind, director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, a progressive Jewish organization.


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