While community wealth institutions and efforts are expanding around the country, many U.S. federal tax and expenditure policies act in a contrary manner, concentrating wealth and income among a few, rather than building community wealth. One result of this growing income and wealth gap has been to make it increasingly difficult for state and local governments to provide basic public services.
In response to these trends, there has been a flurry of grassroots activity at the state and local level. Key areas of innovation include the following:
- “Millionaires' taxes”: These are taxes whose impact is limited to people in very high-income brackets. Typically such taxes are earmarked to fund specific, high priority public services.
- Corporate subsidy disclosure laws: These measures seek to rein in excess corporate subsidies by requiring economic development authorities to clearly disclose the amount of government subsidy that each private employer receives.
- Local minimum wage laws, “living wage” and health insurance provision policies: These policies seek to create an income floor for the least well paid, as well as increase the percentage of workers who benefit from employer-provided health care.
- Retail store caps: Retail store caps are zoning requirements that discourage the expansion of chain stores and encourage the development of locally owned institutions by limiting the maximum permissible size of a single retail outlet.
- Community benefits agreements: These are local contractual arrangements in which private developers benefiting from public subsidies on large projects commit to hire locally and meet other local community economic development objectives.
- Tax credit assistance efforts: Every year, low-income people lose billions of dollars in federal tax credits that they are owed, due to the complexities of the tax code and a lack of knowledge about the existence of some provisions. In many cities churches, non-profit organizations, and local officials team up to help residents claim the tax credit dollars they are owed, bringing needed dollars into low-income communities. Such efforts also often serve as springboards for broader community wealth-building efforts.
- Public health care: The movement for public health care allows for greater access to health insurance benefits for those of lower income brackets to which health care was previously unaffordable.
- State-owned banks: The growing idea of state-owned banks would allow for safe, secure banks that do not compete with smaller community banks. This movement has been in response to a growing need for local credit that these banks are able to create in a sustainable and affordable manner.