JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – “Government has a responsibility to assist people in these hard economic times,” former United Auto Workers member Clem Smith told a crowd of about 150 protesters on the state Capitol steps here March 4.
Smith, now a machinist employed at Boeing, knows first-hand the positive role government can play in creating job opportunities for the unemployed.
In May 2009, like thousands of other Missouri Chrysler employees, Smith was laid off.
“After 13 years of loyal service,” he told the People’s World, “I was unemployed. I looked for a job. I got my resume in order. But there were no jobs.”
Fortunately for Smith, he was able to get into a state-funded training program run by St. Louis Community College that “allowed my auto work experience to translate into aerospace work.”
After being accepted into the jobs training program, Smith attended 10 weeks of training at the St. Louis Career Center.
“It is precisely these types of government-funded training programs that can help the dislocated, the under-employed and the unemployed get back to work,” Smith said. “It is precisely these types of programs that can provide the jobs that can get our economy back on track, not corporate bailouts.”
Unfortunately, Rex Sinquefield, a retired multi-millionaire investment banker, wants to do away with state-funded programs by getting rid of Missouri’s income tax.
Missouri uses income taxes to pay for vital public services. Everything from health care, to education and training programs, to public transportation, to the fire and police departments relies on income taxes.
While using his personal wealth to buy influence in the state legislature, Sinquefield is also the main funder of a statewide ballot initiative to eliminate income taxes in Missouri’s largest cities. He wants to replace the income tax with increased sales taxes, a regressive tax disproportionatey affecting low-income, cash-strapped communities.
Robin Acree, from rural Missouri-based Grass Roots Organizing (GRO), told the crowd, “We need the lawmakers to work for us, not millionaires. We need jobs, infrastructure and health care, not tax cuts for the rich.”
“This is the Show-Me State,” she continued. “Show us some real results!”
Jennifer Whittler, a single mother from Mexico, Mo., works full time and goes to school. She has no health care. She asked, “Where’s my bailout?”
“I couldn’t afford to keep working, stay in school and care for my daughter without relying on my parents for a place to live. I work hard and I still can’t make it in this economy,” Whittler added.
Pointing to the Capitol dome, she continued, “They are trying to cut social service programs by eliminating the income tax. All they care about are the people with the money, the people lining their pockets.”
Bradley Harmon, president of the Missouri State Workers union, told the crowd, “We need to make the people in this building feel uncomfortable. It is time for us to be serious about making corporations pay their fair share. It is time for us to have an economy that works for working people.”
Harmon’s union represents the state workers at the Department of Social Services, Youth Services and the unemployment offices. As budget cuts continue to worsen not only are state workers facing lay-ffs, but the people they service also face longer lines, more waiting and less access to vital public services.
Brenda Procter, a co-founder of GRO, discussed the need to raise revenue in the state by closing corporate tax loopholes.
“Moms pay taxes on diapers, but rich people pay no taxes on yachts. Is that fair?” she asked. “Is that right?”
Procter was referring to the state’s yacht sales tax exemption, a loophole designed to give the rich a free ride.
To generate revenue Procter suggested that Missourians “reform our tax structure. Currently, if I make $9,000 or $900,000 I pay the same tax rate.”
“We need solutions besides cutting social services,” she added.
Following the rally, protesters went to a Sinquefield-financed consulting office to deliver demands that Sinquefield resign from the Show-Me Institute, a Missouri-based right-wing think tank.
“We’re tired of Sinquefield’s shenanigans and radical experiments with Missouri’s future,” Acree said.
“We won’t rest until Rex and his corporate cronies take their hands off our government, our democracy and start paying their fair share,” she concluded.
Updated. An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Brenda Procter’s affiliation.