A group of local clergy and concerned citizens gathered in the unseasonable heat in Hemming Park this morning at a press conference organized to call upon Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson to reject the proposed tax plan. The senate is expected to vote on the bill later this week.
Standing across the street from Rubio's Jacksonville office, they decried the Republican-drafted tax reform plan for benefiting the wealthy and harming lower-income Americans-particularly minorities, children, the elderly and working families-for raising the national deficit, and taking healthcare coverage from millions.
"[This plan] gives the richest 1 percent and corporations a huge tax cut ... it cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 and eliminates estate tax that really only benefits people like our president," said Joey McKinnon of Faith in Public Life, the multidenominational faith group that organized the press conference.
Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church Pastor Lee Harris, also of African Americans Ministers Leadership Council, said that the tax reform bill will be particularly harmful to African Americans and other people of color. He said it is "at best" a reincarnation of the trickle-down economics of the 1980s, which "never worked."
"At worst, it is a kind of neo-slavery ... either way, it is something that people of color cannot afford," he said.
Pastor Harris believes that the bill will bring back elements of "putrid ideas" such as sharecropping, housing and economic discrimination, and gaps in wealth and health. He said that while the plan may at first seem palatable, just like the old adage about putting a frog in cold water and slowly turning the heat up until it boils, the changes to the tax code will gradually harm Americans until it is too late.
He rattled off a series of ways in which the plan will impact black America, including reducing Medicaid by $5.3 trillion over 10 years, triggering $400 billion in Medicare cuts in a decade-$25 billion the first year alone-reducing food stamps by 30 percent, reducing college Pell grants, eliminating tax write-offs for student loan interest payments, cutting headstart slots by 200,000, cutting job training, etc. The cumulative effect of such, he said, "[Would] exacerbate the wealth disparity between white and black America ... cause a $1.5 trillion deficit that would force the gutting of social service programs for decades to come."
In conclusion, Pastor Harris drew a parallel between the tax reform bill's impact on wealthy Americans and the plantation system. "Let me tell you something-plantations grow bigger and only the plantation owners reap the benefits of the wealth," he said.
St. Luke's Community Church leader, Pastor Avery Garner, who was also named Best Local Religious/Spiritual Leader in Folio Weekly's 2016 Best of Jax readers' poll, drew from his personal experience with a recent health scare. Six weeks ago, the pastor found out that he could have prostate cancer. Only after weeks of appointments with a series of physicians and medical professionals did he learn, two weeks ago, that he does not have cancer. Pastor Garner, who spent 20 years working in the healthcare industry, said that he worries about others who might not be as fortunate as he is to have health insurance.
"I have to wonder now about the person out there that does have cancer but cannot afford healthcare coverage, to be able to access healthcare," he said. "That's what the future of this legislation holds."
Garner noted that the Congressional Budget Office estimates that removing the individual insurance mandate will take healthcare coverage from 13 million Americans. "I believe that number will go higher and I believe we are failing our neighbors and our faith traditions by allowing it to happen."
Single mom Angie Nixon, who is in the process of opening her first brick-and-mortar business on Jacksonville's Eastside, shared her personal economic struggles. While fighting to keep from losing her home to foreclosure, Nixon said she swallowed her pride and filed for public assistance, one of the safety nets that the faith leaders believe will be greatly reduced if this bill is enacted. Thanks to public assistance, Nixon said, she was able to save her home and turn things around for herself and her daughter.
"If it wasn't for that safety net, you know the one threatened by this Republican tax bill and Congressional Republicans so they can pay for the deficits it will cause, I would have lost everything, my car, my home, my livelihood," Nixon said. "I'm calling on Senator Rubio and Senator Nelson to ... reject this tax bill so I can continue being a job creator."
Sen. Nelson, a Democrat, has been publicly critical of the bill, repeatedly saying that it will hurt small businesses. The bill does lower the tax rate on small businesses from 35 to 39 percent to 25 percent (large companies would pay just 20 percent), but those cuts apply to only the first 30 percent of their incomes; the rest would be taxed under individual income tax rates. On Nov. 19, Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times that the bill will cause small businesses to pay an average tax rate of 32 percent, compared to large companies' 20 percent.
On Monday, CNN reported that Sen. Rubio was still undecided on the bill, that he felt there was "not enough" progress making the child tax credit refundable for working people, sentiments the senator also tweeted. But just this morning, Rubio tweeted a clip from his recent appearance on Facing South Florida, in which he indicated that he would likely vote for the bill, provided it addressed his concerns over how it impacts middle-class and low-income Americans.
"I am confident we are going to get there on the senate bill. I can't imagine us having a senate bill that cuts taxes on corporations and big companies but doesn't allow a working mother raising three kids earning $35,000 a year to keep more of her money that she earns by working," he said on the show, adding, "I can't imagine us passing a tax bill that does that."
After the press conference, some of the roughly two dozen demonstrators and clergy members planned to walk to Rubio's office across the street to share their sentiments with his staff and deliver "checks" from the "Stick it to US Bank."