Burlington Free Press: Pro-tax, anti-tax protesters rally

April 16, 2009
Taxes draw tea-party politics

Pro-tax, anti-tax protesters rally

By Nancy Remsen, Free Press Staff Writer

MONTPELIER — Kathy Kilcourse of Montpelier arrived at the building housing the Department of Taxes shortly before 10 Wednesday morning to join a small crowd declaring their willingness to pay a bit more in taxes to save state programs.

She signed a mock tax form listing 17 “essential state programs and services” that the sponsors of the gathering — the Save Our State Coalition — want to spare from budget cuts during the economic downturn. The form said that if the average Vermont taxpayer paid just a dollar a month, all the listed services could continue. The services cited included keeping the courts open full time, maintaining frontline human service workers and continuing the cleanup of Lake Champlain.

“We can all afford some extra taxes,” Kilcourse said. “I signed up because I think it is really outrageous that the governor is trying to solve the budget crisis on the back of low-income Vermonters,” she said. She works with Vermonters who have AIDS and rely on state services. “If everyone pays a little bit more, we can get through this.”

A pro-tax gathering — followed by a larger, louder noon anti-tax rally outside the Statehouse — came on the annual deadline for filing federal and state income taxes. They also occurred just hours before the Vermont House of Representatives debated and gave final approval to a tax bill by a vote of 82-54.

The legislation, which still must be considered by the Senate, would add a surcharge to the state income tax effective for the current tax year. Republicans tried to strip out the tax without success. Gov. Jim Douglas has repeatedly expressed his opposition to any new taxes.

Joeie Clark of Fairfax joined a lunch-hour crowd of more than 300 attending a Tax Day Tea Party on the lawn in front of the Statehouse to make a different point about taxes.

“When times get tough, we should cut back,” said Clark, who had brought a big American flag to wave. “We are struggling. Higher taxes, for me, aren’t the answer.”

Clark said she and her husband took their children out of school because the issues that were the focus of the rally — unchecked spending and increasing taxes — would affect them. “My kids and their children are going to be paying for this mess.”

Many of the speakers and attendees at this Tea Party took aim at the Obama administration and federal stimulus spending. Similar Tea Parties took place across the country, including an evening anti-tax gathering in Rutland.

“We would just like our representatives to know we are unhappy with the bailout,” said Jody Carey of Berlin. “They just keep spending, and they are going to put us all in bankruptcy.”

Vince Scheck drove from Newfane for the Montpelier Tea Party because he said it was time for people to speak up. He wore a red, white and blue top hat with tea bags stapled to the brim. “I can’t afford any new taxes,” the retiree said.

Jessica Bernier, organizer of the Tea Party, told the crowd the rally needed to be a beginning, not an end. “We can no longer be apathetic about what happens in Montpelier and Washington.

“Folks, this didn’t happen overnight,” Bernier continued. “For the most part we have been sleeping and we allowed this to happen.”

Christopher Curtis, a lawyer with Vermont Legal Aid and one of the organizers of the Save Our State tax pledge initiative, also hoped to energize Vermonters who care about the work of state government. “These forms are out all over the state.

“Vermont is such a small community. Once you know somebody who is affected by these cuts, Vermonters are willing to help,” Curtis said. He criticized the mantra of “no new taxes,” noting that with a modest investment from taxpayers — a few dollars a month — a host of critical services could be maintained.

“We can all pitch in together and solve this budget crisis,” Curtis said.

Late Wednesday, the House debated a proposed surcharge on the income tax to raise $16.6 million to cover expenses in the budget the House passed last week.

House Republican Leader Patti Komline, R-Dorset, said the surcharge wouldn’t be needed if lawmakers had tightened the belt of state spending a few more notches.

Rep. Greg Clark, R-Vergennes, proposed deleting the surcharge from the tax bill, calling it unconscionable in the current economic crisis.

Rep. Richard Marek, D-Newfane, said the way to judge the surcharge was to look at how it would affect the average Vermonter and whether it was worth doing.

“Three cents a day is the cost of this surcharge on the average Vermonter making $38,000 a year,” Marek said. He asked if it was worth 3 cents a day to avoid closing all the state’s rest areas, eliminating a subsidized prescription drug program for low-income elderly, shutting fish hatcheries, closing courts for 12 days a year.

“It might not sound like a lot of money,” countered Rep. Joseph Krawczyk, R-Bennington. “But collectively what we are asking our taxpayers to pay?” he asked, citing several other taxes and fees. “It all adds up.”

Contact Nancy Remsen at 578-5685 or nremsen@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com

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