National immigration policy and local taxes have been in the news a lot lately. The level of anger they engender are at an all-time high thanks to local and national leaders who are using divide-and-conquer tactics and pandering to people’s baser instincts and fear.

I understand why people whose lives are less economically secure now than they were eight years ago are angry; they fear becoming even less secure. The target of their anger, though, is misplaced. The problem isn’t refugees taking away jobs, and it’s not progressives rerouting tax dollars to those who don’t need them.

Refugees fleeing violence in their own countries are convenient targets, but they are the result of our failure to adopt immigration and tax policies that could actually benefit us all. We can pretend we don’t benefit from undocumented immigrants, but the research on that is clear that we do.

First, we benefit from their cheap labor.

Second, they pay taxes; in 2016, undocumented immigrants contributed $3 billion in taxes in California alone. The estimate is they would pay another half a billion dollars in taxes there if they had legal status. We could be expanding the tax pie rather than fighting over the crumbs left by regressive policies. Too bad that kind of thinking is alien to our local and national leaders.

I know “progressive” is an anathema to those who are angry with people like me. However, progressive policies aim at fairness for taxpayers as a whole. If our taxation system was a fair and progressive one, individuals would pay less tax if their income was earned through work and more tax if their income was made in the stock market.

Fair taxation would mean people pay a progressive tax on their earned income, rather than a regressive tax on their property or what they buy at the grocery store.

Fair taxation would also mean that when corporations like Walmart keep their workers from working enough hours to have health benefits, they would be required to pay a tax equal to what it costs the state to cover their workers forced to turn to Medicaid.

Fair and progressive tax policy would benefit 95 percent of the people in the country in, at least, the same way it benefits those in the top income bracket and corporations.

But we don’t have a fair tax policy. It’s why I’ve spent years working with other progressives trying to make it better.

In the past, progressives have had to fight against Democrats as well as Republicans and Independents. Sadly, though, for the past 10 years, it’s fair to say that it’s pretty much the Republican Party that’s been the culprit, specifically the tea-party wing.

The tea party’s goal is to dismantle government — except when it comes to controlling women’s reproductive lives and having it pay for their lifetime health benefits — and to do that, they have convinced a lot of people that government doesn’t work.

As a small business owner, I can attest that there are of times that government doesn’t work. However, it often does work, as is the case with police and fire protection, public education, safe roads, clean air and water, and Social Security and Medicare.

I get why people are angry that their property taxes are paying such a large percentage of the costs. I’m angry, too. It’s why as mayor, I spent hours lobbying our legislators to restore the revenue sharing promised to towns and cities. In the past eight years, we’ve lost 60 percent of our revenue sharing, which went directly to reducing our property taxes. The $1.4 million of revenue sharing that we are not receiving would have prevented any property tax increase in my city of Waterville this year.

And, to expand the revenue pie, I made sure the pool and the airport set out on a path to generate income beyond their expenses.

The important point to understand is that to change something, you need to focus that anger where it matters. In the case of the border, it’s not with the refugees. In the case of Waterville city politics, it’s not the progressives, liberals, commies, or whatever the opposition chooses to call us.

No, instead of shouting at people whose color is dark or slinging arrows online, you should work to hold policymakers accountable. To do that, you have to understand that who you vote for matters. It matters more than thinking, “He seems like a nice guy” — it’s about how that nice guy votes.

They have to vote to protect your interests, not just tell you who to be scared of. They have to work to truly make you more secure, not just more angry.

Karen Heck is a resident and former mayor of Waterville.

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