Pay the Piper
Action wants taxpayers to know how much of their money is
funding the Iraq war—and to consider refusing to pay it On
April 15, Bob Cohen of Citizen Action and Joe Seeman of MoveOn.org
stood outside the post office on the corner of Central Avenue
and Partridge Street in Albany, just waiting to give last-minute
tax filers the bad news. “Half of your tax money is going
to fund the war or to pay war debt,” explained Seeman. And
they offered a solution that some people were more than happy
to hear: If you don’t support the war, don’t pay your taxes.
A group of about 10 activists handed out literature showing
that 36 percent of collected income tax goes to funding the
current military and the war in Iraq, 18 percent goes to paying
for war debt and veterans benefits, with 30 percent going
to human resources and 11 percent to general government. Seeman
said the group of activists holding antiwar signs periodically
expanded when people waiting for the bus stopped to find out
what the hubbub was about.
were waiting for a bus, and they would hold a sign until their
bus came,” said Seeman.
The United States government, he continued, spends “pennies
on researching alternative fuels, pennies on renewable energy,
pennies on clean energy, and the price of gas is going up,
but they are paying trillions for the war.”
According to Cohen, about two out of every three people in
America today are opposed to the war in Iraq. And he said
he thinks that he can win over the remaining one third by
explaining how the financial burden of war is damaging the
economy and diverting the federal budget away from funding
important social initiatives.
Citizen Action flyers provided a number of helpful, creative,
and socially conscious ways to avoid paying taxes to protest
Flyers handed out by the group gave contact information for
groups that promote organized war resistance through refusal
to pay income tax. One group, wartaxboycott.org, provides
a form where a tax payer can note how much of their taxes
they refuse to pay and then note a charity where they will
send that portion of their taxes instead. Of course, not paying
your income tax is illegal, but the group says it is an effective
form of civil disobedience.
don’t object to paying taxes,” said Cohen in a prepared statement.
“But I’m outraged that the president has wasted almost $50
billion of New Yorkers’ tax dollars on the war, while proposing
cuts in aid to state and local government, after-school [programs],
and energy assistance.”
Another option presented by Citizen Action is to refuse to
pay the federal excise tax on local phone service, which has
been seen as a war tax for decades.
Furthermore, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating
Committee of Brooklyn has been championing the Religious Freedom
Peace Tax Fund Bill. The bill, which is currently before Congress,
would allow moral or religious objectors of the war to pay
their taxes to a government-regulated trust fund. The money
paid to the fund would be allocated by Congress to any non-war-related
program of their choosing.
Cohen said that Citizen Action will be pushing in the coming
months for another economic-stimulus package. Unlike the rebates
expected later this year, Cohen said the government should
extend the time of unemployment payments, and expand the food
stamp program. “A rich guy gets a $2,000 rebate, and he is
going to spend it on a luxury item or invest it, or put it
in a bank. We want the government to give back to the people
who need it the most.”
The Times Union reported this week that
the Albany Convention Center Authority approached
the administration of Gov. David Paterson about
issuing $190 million dollars in long-term state
bonds to cover a gap in the cost for the proposed
Albany Convention Center. Paterson has warned
recently that the state needs to cut back its
spending, but Assemblyman John McEneny (D-Albany)
held fast in his support for the project, telling
the TU that the state needs a convention
center in its capital.
Ironically, it was a Barack Obama supporter—blogger
Mayhill Flower—who outed the Illinois senator’s
remarks, made at a private fundraiser, that insulted
many working-class voters and appeared to damage
his chances of making further gains on rival Sen.
Hillary Clinton before Tuesday’s Pennsylvania
primary. Obama said that small-town Pennsylvanians,
“bitter” over their economic circumstances, “cling
to guns or religion or antipathy to people who
aren’t like them.” Obama’s defenders, including
Bruce Springsteen, said the senator’s comments
were taken out of context, but others condemned
them as “elistist” and “out of touch,” and some
voters took offense at the suggestion that they
weren’t religious until the economy soured. The
New York Times called the remarks “boneheaded.”
Hill has reported that former Democrat Sen.
Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has made it clear that,
if asked, he would make a prime-time appearance
at the Republican National Convention to deliver
a speech supporting his friend Sen. John McCain
(R-Ariz.). Said Lieberman, “If Sen. McCain, who
I support so strongly, asked me to do it, if he
thinks it will help him, I will.” If Lieberman
does speak, Democrats could punish Lieberman by
revoking his seats on the Governmental Affairs
and National Security committees starting with
the next Senate session.
Sen. McCain has a number of special weapons in
his bid for the White House, reported The Washington
Times—McCain carries a lucky feather, a lucky
compass, and a lucky penny, nickel and quarter
with him at all times. “He had so many of them
that we had to cut down. It was like a change
purse in his pocket,” Brooke Buchanan told the
Times. McCain, as it turns out, is extremely
superstitious. According to reports, whenever
anything optimistic is said about McCain’s chances
in the fall, he and his staffers knock on wood.
Troy’s city council surrenders in its first big battle with
the mayor After five months of rancor and partisan sniping,
the rumpus over pay raises in Troy City Hall has ended. The
city council’s Democratic majority has announced that it will
pass legislation to nullify an earlier ordinance that revoked
the contentious raises. The council’s move, President Clem
Campana said, was made with the taxpayer in mind.
Last month, Republican Mayor Harry Tutunjian filed a lawsuit
against the council, claiming that it overstepped its legal
authority when it rescinded the roughly $40,000 worth of raises
for nine of his top political appointees. The raises had been
passed during the budget process late last year by the then-Republican-controlled
Campana said that the Democrats’ decision to work toward settling
the case outside of court was a prudent one. They feared that
the case would grow into a costly, protracted appeals battle,
costing the taxpayers significantly more than the raises.
administration,” he said, “will spare no taxpayer expense.”
Councilman Bill Dunne (D-District 4) agreed.
it came down to the fact that our attorney simply told us
that, by the time that both sides are done litigating this,
regardless of the outcome, it would have cost more than the
raises,” Dunne said. “And at that point, it just didn’t make
any sense. You know, we weren’t going to put the taxpayer
through that. So we just decided to be the bigger men, and
swallow our pride, and for the sake of the taxpayers not run
a $40,000 tab up to an $80,000 tab.”
Dunne said that the council has a fiduciary responsibility
to protect the fiscal well-being of the taxpayer.
is regrettable that it even got that far,” he said. “And the
blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the mayor, for the
timing of these raises.” The pay raises were presented to
the council last year after the November elections, a move
that many consider a bald political calculation. “This is
the only thing that I can remember this guy [Tutunjian] passionately
digging his heels in over, in the four-plus years that he
has been mayor. And it has been raises for his political cronies.
have to be the first people in the world to be involved in
a court case,” countered Jeff Buell, Troy director of public
information, “who think they are right, and just give up for
no apparent reason whatsoever. If they are doing this to save
political face, that’s one thing, but to try to continue along
this path of saying that they are backing off even though
they think they are right, for the taxpayer, is disingenuous.”
Buell said it is more likely, and obvious to him, that the
council Democrats simply realized that they were going to
lose. It is a simple case, he said. Either the city charter
gave the council permission to rescind the pay raises, or
mayor sets the salary for the employees,” he argued. “That’s
what the charter says. It’s clearly written in the charter,
and that is our whole argument. They can’t do this. It is
what the mayor said in January, it is what he said in February.
It is what he has continued to say.”
It is a matter that could be easily settled in court, if the
council Democrats really believed they were right, he said.
are running the other way,” Buell said, “but they are continuing
to shoot their guns at us without looking where they are shooting.”
Meanwhile, Bob Mirch, Troy commissioner of public works, and
one of the employees whose pay raise has been in debate, has
called for Campana to resign.
is lying to the public,” Mirch said.
Campana shrugged off Mirch’s petition.
he is calling for my resignation,” Campana said, “then I guess
I am doing my job.”
As of press time, the council had planned a special meeting
Wednesday night to pass the necessary legislation to revoke
its previous ordinance.
are getting their raises,” Campana said, “at a time when people
can’t afford to put fuel in their car, and the city streets
are blowing up. They are more worried about their salary increase.”
Activists remind late filers how much of their money is
going to the war in Iraq.
Troy code enforcement shutters an “unliveable” building where
24 men happen to live
Howard Barrett has never been homeless. He could be, now,
within less than a week. The onetime state worker was living
at Cook Arms when the city of Troy padlocked the doors. Code
workers had found a foot and a half of raw sewage in the basement,
and a crack in the foundation that you could see daylight
can’t let people live in raw sewage,” said Jeff Buell, spokesman
for the mayor’s office.
Last Wednesday, code workers visited the boarding house on
the Troy-Brunswick border on Route 2. By Friday, Barrett,
along with 23 other men housed in the building, many of whom
were living on county assistance, had to find somewhere else
are guys who were up there in wheelchairs. There are guys
with schizophrenia. There are guys with active addictions,”
said Tracy Neitzel, director of Joseph’s House and Shelter
in downtown Troy.
She and her staff made emergency accommodations to accept
13 of these men. To do so, Joseph’s House had to first move
the women and children—the demographic they typically serve—into
motels. They filled their beds to capacity with the men and
set up cots in the common room for the rest to sleep on. The
community, driven by local churches, dropped off emergency
Neitzel is very familiar with Cook Arms. She has been placing
single adults there for years. If you are living on public
assistance in Rensselaer County, she said, the total assistance
grant from the Department of Social Services is $290 a month.
Gene Cook, the owner of the house, Neitzel continued, “just
so happens to charge $290 a room, and is willing to have DSS
to pay him,” which the agency does directly. Cook was the
only landlord in Troy who would work with DSS. “Cook Arms
is a flophouse. It always has been a flophouse, it always
will be a flophouse. It is not a great place. It was never,
at its best, a great place, but it is the only place where
a lot of the guys we work with could afford.” Cook Arms was
a last-resort placement for Joseph’s House, but they were
placing people there as late as last week.
Cook has said that the building’s code violations, including
the foundation crack, will be fixed within a couple weeks.
Neitzel doubts it. The building’s foundation has been an issue
for five years.
me, this was such an ‘aha moment,’ “ Neitzel said. “Yes, there
were people living in these conditions, because this was the
only place we have for them to live. All the housing we place
our people in is crap. But where else are we supposed to place
them? That’s the hardest part of running a shelter—putting
people in this crappy housing, setting them up for failure,
knowing that it is not going to be a good, healthy environment.
But that is where poor people live. That is the kind of housing
for poor people.” The whole issue leaves her ambivalent. Is
deplorable housing better than no housing at all? It’s a terrible
Now that the building has run afoul of code, the tenants realize
that Cook Arms might have been better than nothing. “And now
we are stuck with these guys.”
DSS will provide assistance for only one week for some of
the men she is currently boarding. After that, the assistance
will end. She wants to bring back the families who were displaced
by the emergency. She said that she hopes she can get these
families back into the shelter soon, because school is starting
and the shelter has arranged bus runs for the children.
But it will hard be for the men of Cook Arms to find housing
anywhere near what they can afford, she said. “I don’t know
where these guys are going.”
Barrett doesn’t know, either.
am worried,” he said, his face reddened, his eyes wide and
He has no family to stay with. He is unemployed. When Joseph’s
House can no longer accommodate him, he said, he will be faced
with few options. He is trying to land a telemarketing job,
but if that doesn’t pan out, he might become homeless for
the first time in his life.
loose ends this week-