Tax Day brings Occupy tax protesters in St. Pete

04/17/12 Janelle Irwin
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As people hurried into the main post office in St. Petersburg to file their taxes before tonight’s midnight deadline, 40 people stood outside waving signs demanding tax equality. The protesters representing at least three different advocacy groups said it’s not fair that wealthy individuals and corporations have access to tax credits and loopholes that often let them pay a lower tax rate than the middle class. Jasmine Carter, a member of Occupy St. Pete and Awake the State, said instead tax incentives should help the working class.

“And if we have people that are making millions and millions and millions of dollars and their corporations are making millions and billions of dollars and they’re not paying any taxes and they’re getting refunds on their taxes – more than you and I would – that’s not fair to average Americans.”

Carrol Denton supports the Occupy movement. He’s also a disabled senior who has watched the nation’s tax laws transform into something he doesn’t like.

“Well, when I was a kid, the rich paid 90% in taxes and now they pay basically nothing – if they’ve got a good tax man.”

But the idea wasn’t just to blast what this group sees as an unfair tax code.

“I don’t like the way my taxes are being spent.”

Jasmine Carter doesn’t like it either. She’s worried that too money is being spent on the military.

“A lot of our tax dollars go right into the Pentagon and they have no one there that is auditing their services, making sure they’re spending their money in a way that suits everybody here or suits anybody at all except them.”

And even though he didn’t want to mention any names, Leon Stark mocked a certain presidential candidate who he said has more money than anyone needs. That frustrates Stark who has been without work for two years and recently lost his unemployment benefits. That system, he said, is another example of how the U.S. isn’t doing a very good job of allocating taxpayer money.

“You’re on unemployment; you’re supposed to be looking for work. If you try to get training to be able to get the jobs that are being offered, oh no, you have to have someone to support you because you’re not looking for work, you can’t be unemployment. But you’re trying to get the training to take the jobs. Oh wait, you can’t get paid because you’re in training, you can’t be looking for work. But if you’re looking for work for jobs that aren’t there or jobs that you’re not qualified for, oh wait, we’ll pay you.”

Protesters ranged in age from their early-twenties to their late-eighties. But despite the generational gap, each was equally angry about who pays what and where it goes. Bill Hurley, a spokesperson for Occupy St. Pete, supports the Buffett rule. It would have required millionaires to pay a minimum 30% tax rate. Hurley isn’t happy that the Senate rejected what the president called “a common sense idea”.

”As Warren Buffett said, he’s paying less in his tax rate than his secretary is. And even he doesn’t agree with it. And you’ve got most of the millionaires in the country that don’t agree with this system, but who’s going to change it because some people don’t want to change it in Congress? I don’t know why. Maybe we need to replace some people in Congress so they think more like the 99% do.”

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was criticized for paying less than 15% on his 2010 taxes. He was able to do that because much of his income came from investments that are taxes at far lower rates than earned income. The Buffett Rule would have required a 3.8% tax on unearned income. Florida Consumer Action Network’s Peggy Goodale doesn’t see a problem with that.

“When we paid more taxes, the country thrived. People who pay taxes – rich people that pay taxes – they don’t even notice it really. I mean, I don’t know how many houses they have to have. But I talk to people that have small businesses that are suffering – and I mean really small business, not what the government is calling small business. There’s all kinds of things that are going on that, really, aren’t fair and it’s kind of – I can’t even say it’s just an attack on the middle class, it’s an attack on the poor too. The poor are suffering greatly.”

There were two tax preparation services across the street from the post office and the protesters. A giant blow-up statue of liberty was in front of one of them. Someone – though none took credit – placed a sign on it that called for fair taxes for everyone.

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As part of Occupy St. Pete Elders, I attended this event and compliment Ms. Irwin on a good story that captures some of the diversity and energy of the participants. My sign urged citizens coming to file their taxes to demand that Cong. B$LL Young require the military (DOD) to account for its $675 Billion budget--something it does not do and has never done, unlike every other Federal Agency. "Read the U.S. Constitution," my sign said, (Art. 1; Sec.9; Par. 7) and "follow it or resign." The reporter interviewing Lenny Flank (from Fox), could not say how many military bases we left to Iraq when we withdrew the end of last year. Over 500! your Ballot on America's Future there.