Update on Long-term Proactive Initiative

We thought you would like to know about an exciting and promising new effort aimed at stimulating the development of a long-term, proactive initiative on federal tax and budget policy.

We thought you would like to know about an exciting and promising new effort aimed at stimulating the development of a long-term, proactive initiative on federal tax and budget policy.

Expert analyses, and President Bush's own budget, indicate that the present federal course of revenue cuts and rising healthcare costs is unsustainable. The long-term picture makes the current budget crisis that has dominated many nonprofit meetings look like a walk in the park. Conservatives have described the strategy as "starve the beast." Grover Norquist, a leader in the conservative movement, was more direct: "Kill the taxes and you kill the government."

The routine is familiar: conservatives present an alarming proposal, the nonprofit community fights the proposal and a "compromise" emerges. The compromise is better than the original proposal, but still pretty dreadful. We spend most of our time defending against things we don't want, like spending cuts or tax giveaways, and very little pursuing a vision of what we do want.

OMB Watch believes it is time to break this cycle. This past December, after a series of interviews with nonprofit leaders, we released a "call-to-action" paper. Conversations stemming from the paper overwhelmingly indicated enthusiasm for development of a proactive vision of tax and budget policy, and a long-term plan for achieving that vision. With the support of the Open Society Institute, the Marguerite Casey Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, we have since taken the following steps:

  • Conducted a broad survey of the nonprofit community
    More than 700 groups nationwide responded to an online survey about their organizations' current tax and budget activities and interest in a longer-term campaign, issues it would focus on, challenges it would face, and the needs of groups who might participate. The survey found 90 percent of respondents supporting the launch such a long-term effort. (More details)
  • Held five regional strategy sessions in March and April
    Local participants at state and regional strategy sessions in Columbia, S.C., Chicago, Seattle, Phoenix and Philadelphia engaged in lively, rich discussions about "where we are now," "where we want to be in ten years," strategies for getting there, challenges and opportunities along the way, and possible next steps. Major themes that emerged include the need to address attacks on the role of government, the importance of strengthening civic responsibility, possible elements of a 10-year vision, and resources needed to make a long-term initiative successful, including infrastructure and leadership. Crosscutting all of these was one question: What does the nonprofit community need to do differently to be more effective on the federal tax and budget front? Each session was co-hosted by an organization in that state. Summaries will be posted as they become available.
  • Begun planning a national retreat for June 13-14
    A planning committee is currently organizing a two-day retreat in the Baltimore-D.C. area to bring together local, state and national nonprofit leaders. Using the survey results, the regional meetings, and our many discussions with other national groups, participants would develop a long-term proactive federal tax and budget strategy, and develop immediate next steps toward making this initiative a reality.

OMB Watch is fulfilling the role of "provocateur" and does not intend to be "in charge." There is widespread support for such a campaign and many challenges and needs to be met: better values-based framing and messaging, broadening and re-energizing the base, developing a leadership structure, improving coordination, and determining how to best influence the debate.

OMB Watch is proceeding with two high-priority items. First, we are developing a prototype of a tax-and-budget Internet resource center designed to provide easy access to the large volume of very useful, existing federal tax-and-budget information and tools. The resource center would also promote networking among state, local and national groups of all types. It should be available for preview later this summer. In addition, we are developing a "Face on the Numbers" database — a collection of true stories about how government services have aided real people and how gaps in services have hurt people. The database would help the news media, policymakers and others translate complex statistics into human terms. (To contribute stories, please contact Ellen Taylor at OMB Watch. For more on this, visit Face on the Numbers.)

Much more needs to be done to advance this initiative. Its success depends on all of us participating as a community in its development. As the "provocateur," we at OMB Watch also know we have much to learn in order to do this wisely. In particular, we are committed to building on existing activities at the local, state and federal levels, expanding resources for longer-term activities, and linking short-term actions with long-term objectives. John Irons, Ellen Taylor and Gary Bass — lead staff from OMB Watch — welcome your input, as well as the names of any colleagues this may interest. For updates on the project, you may subscribe to our "taxbudgetaction!" email listserv by using a convenient sign-up box.

back to Blog