In Florida battleground, tax fairness appeals to voters

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ORLANDO, Fla. - The Tax Day action here, April 17, drew union members and community allies who demanded that corporations and the ultra-rich pay their fair share in federal taxes. This was one of hundreds of such events around the country on Tax Day that were called for by the AFL-CIO, MoveOn.org and other groups.

Demonstrators at Orlando's Tax the 1 Percent rally, organized by the Central Florida AFL-CIO Central Labor Council in front of a post office, held signs with messages as, "I Paid My Fair Share--So Should Big Corporations," "Tax Wall Street And The Super-Rich," and "CWA Standing Up To Corporate Greed."

Many demonstrators enthusiastically supported the "Buffet Rule," proposed federal legislation that would require millionaires to pay a tax rate of at least 30 percent. 

"I just finished making my own payment on taxes," said Lorraine Tuliano, president of the Central Florida CLC.

"I'm paying my fair share. I think it's time we have the millionaires pay their fair share, and corporations who pay nothing, need to pay their fair share as well," she said.

Tuliano told the rally that the Bush tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year should be repealed. She also criticized the Republican's budget, recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, for proposals that would privatize Medicare and create more than $3 trillion in further tax cuts for corporations and the ultra-rich. She also condemned tax incentives for corporations to ship jobs overseas while they profit from destroying the middle class.

A recent Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans--60 percent--support the Buffet Rule. Yet, despite widespread public opinion in favor of fairer tax reforms, Senate Republicans blocked debate on the Buffet Rule, April 16. Florida's tea party-backed GOP senator, Marco Rubio, joined fellow Republicans in opposing tax fairness for working people while Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who is facing a tough re-election battle this year, supported allowing debate.

"This is the economy that Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and John Boehner want to protect," Tuliano said. "This is not the economy that works for the 99 percent. We must tax millionaires and the Wall Street speculators. We need to pay for investment in jobs, infrastructure and education, and to build a strong middle class."

One of the largest contingents came from AFGE Local 559, which represents workers at the Orlando VA Medical Center.

"We stand with our brothers and sisters in labor, and say that the tax cheats up in Tallahassee and up in DC need to stop," said Tere Watts, president of Local 559. "They need to start paying their share and help this country get back on its feet."

Local activist Maria McCluskey, of Awake Orlando, told the crowd that she and her husband pay an effective federal tax rate of 26 percent while her father, who is self-employed, pays 30 percent annually.

Technically, the corporate tax rate is 35 percent, she noted, but thanks to loopholes, corporations that pay usually fork over 13-15 percent, which she called the "Romney rate."

"I'm not a union member, but I stand in solidarity with you and other American families who work hard, pay their fair share, and don't have access to a 1,000-person tax team like General Electric," said McCluskey. "I'm not here to complain that my taxes are too high, I'm here to say the tax system is unfair."

The 13-15 percent actual corporate tax rate is competitive in the global market, but that hasn't stopped those corporations from off-shoring American jobs, she said, while unemployment remains high in many parts of the country including Florida.

Unemployment in the Sunshine State stood at 9.4 percent in February (the latest month available) compared to the national unemployment rate of 8.2 percent in March.

Workers from CWA Local 3108, which represents AT&T workers in Central Florida, handed out fliers reminding the public that the telecommunications giant, which made profits of more than $36 billion over the last three years, paid less than 2 percent in federal taxes in 2010. More than 40,000 CWA members around the country have been in contract negotiations with the company since their old contracts expired on April 7.

Shayan Elahi, a local lawyer who represented members of Orlando Food Not Bombs and Occupy Orlando arrested during disputes with the city, came to the event to show his support. Elahi, along with GLBTQ rights activist Joe Saunders, are seeking the Democratic nomination for a newly drawn Florida House district in the east Orlando area.

Photo: Central Florida AFL-CIO Central Labor Council

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