Tax Day protests in Tampa and St. Pete blast wealthy corporations that evade taxes
Wealthy corporations have access to tax loopholes that many individuals and small businesses can’t get. Tax Day protests on both sides of the bay this morning had activists lashing out at what they call tax evaders.
About a dozen activists in Tampa were up before the sun to light up the U.S. 301 overpass over I-4. Back-lit posters spelled out the words ‘U paid more taxe$ than Verizon’.
“You and I are paying taxes and all these huge corporations are not paying taxes.”
That’s a Tampa Light Brigade organizer Jeff Haynes. The group of a dozen activists wanted to send a message to commuters that wealthy corporations exploit tax loopholes.
“It’s a stated fact, you can look it up. They pay some taxes, but they get huge refunds and subsidies and stuff. So, you and I are paying for their corporate welfare.”
Activists swapped out signs about every twenty minutes starting with Verizon. Also on the group’s radar were BP, Bank of America and General Electric. But a half hour into the demonstration, activists were interrupted by the sound of cars colliding and flipping into a ditch. The accident, which backed up westbound I-4 for much of the early morning, made Haynes worry officers would blame the lit signs.
“There was one morning when we were out here and it started to rain and traffic backs up on I-4 when it rains, but we got the blame for it – or the credit – however you want to call it.”
Despite their expectation of being confronted by police, the group decided to continue their demonstration as planned. Haynes said police have tried unsuccessfully to break up past demonstrations.
“He’s like ‘I need you to get these and get out of here’ and we’re like, ‘we’re not breaking any laws – we’re fine where we are’ and he’s like, ‘oh, OK.’”
Occupy Tampa’s Nathan Schwartz speculated that the traffic accident may have shone a spotlight on the group’s message. But he’s still worried there could be lasting negative implications.
“It could, basically trigger a debate as to whether or not we should be doing what we’re doing.”
A few hours later in St. Petersburg a different group of community activists rallied against corporate tax loopholes at the Post Office on 1st Avenue North. Kevin King is the political director of the group People Improving Communities through Organizing, or PICO.
“You know, there’s a lot of revenue on the table and we’re highlighting that fact and we want the revenue brought home, we want the tax code fixed. We’re not necessarily blaming the corporations for taking advantage of the existing law - most of them follow the law - we’re pointing out that it’s broken. We want people like Senator Bill Nelson and Senator Marco Rubio to fix it.”
The corporate tax debate echoes in state government, too, where Governor Rick Scott is calling on lawmakers to get rid of taxes on manufacturing equipment and lower the corporate tax rate.
“You know, that’s fine, but I think everyone has to recognize that we have a revenue problem in Florida – we’ve had one for a long time – and it’s because of these policies - is bringing everything down to 0% and failing to provide oversight or accountability to make sure that made sense.”
Another protester, Walt Knepper is a retired Certified Public Accountant. He said taxpayers are misled by some elected officials, he points mostly to Republicans, who claim the 35% corporate tax rate is the highest in the world.
“A lot of politicians – Republicans especially – say that the 35% is the highest rate in the world … and that’s true except for the fact that they don’t pay that rate. There’s all these avoidance mechanisms that the effective rate across the board, corporations pay 12.1%. So, it’s a very low rate.”
The protesters in St. Pete waved signs as people came and went from the Post Office dropping off their taxes before the midnight deadline. Each called out a different corporation like Exxon and the pharmaceutical company Merck claiming there were billions of dollars in lost revenue as a result of government subsidies and offshore profits. Vince Cocks is a manager for a Handicap transport company. He had a particular beef with Duke Energy for continuing to take advantage of advanced nuclear cost recovery on a proposed site in Levy County.
“Which actually gives them a license to take money from us to speculate on a plant in the future. It just to me, we work hard. My family works hard, we pay our taxes. We don’t use loopholes. We do it the right way and companies just like Duke Energy, they get every break on earth and they get so much money. They gave $2 million to legislative candidates last year in the state of Florida.”
Across the street from protesters was a Liberty Tax location where a man dressed as the statue of Liberty danced jubilantly on the roadside.
Activists at the protests on both sides of Tampa Bay said they expect to be doing the same thing next year because they doubt there will be any substantive change in the meantime.
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