In south St. Pete, a primer on Trump's tax plan — and what locals can do about it.

Activists with groups like the NAACP and Indivisible are not too pleased with the nascent proposal.

click to enlarge From left: Nathan Wadinger, Farhan Malik, Maria Scruggs. - Terrence Smith
Terrence Smith
From left: Nathan Wadinger, Farhan Malik, Maria Scruggs.

Saturday morning at the Enoch Davis Rec Center in St. Pete local activists gathered to discuss what is likely going to be the next fight in the resistance against Donald Trump's agenda: Trump's plan for tax reform, which critics say benefits the wealthy while doing little for the disadvantaged (or the deficit). Organized by For Florida's Future, Indivisible FL-13, Fired Up Pinellas, Women's March Pinellas, and St. Pete NAACP, the panel — branded the Unified Framework for Fixing our Broken Tax Code — cut through the hyperbole that surrounds any Trump legislation and provided an in-depth analysis of what the bill entails and its effect on the local community.

“When the somewhat scary news about tax reform hit the news and it became clear that things were going to happen quickly, some of us thought, Boy, we've got to learn more about this. We've got to get on this,” said Kate Pravera of Indivisible FL-13 as she introduced the panel. “Unlike healthcare where even though it kept changing everyone had a basic sense of what that was all about, tax reform is a little different. Some of us don't do our own taxes, we just know what we pay, some of us do, but we realize the importance of hearing the facts and being able to talk about it intelligently.”

In an effort to support such aims, the panel consisted of a mixture of informed perspectives from within the local community, which included Nathan Wadinger, a tax lawyer and instructor at USF St. Pete, Farhan Malik, a doctor at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital and Maria Scruggs, the chair of the NAACP St. Petersburg.

Wadinger opened the event with what could have been a university lecture on Trump's bill, going point by point over the course of a half hour as he teased out the complexities of what is sold as a simple take on taxes.

“I believe that to educate the population, it is important to see what is out there and from there you can have your opinions,” said Wadinger. “My job is to present what that proposal is and to bring up issues that are hidden or issues that will affect the working class. You're going to see that in the proposal one of the main goals is to give relief to the middle and working class. What you're actually going to see is that's not the case, it more benefits the top 1% of America.”

Wadinger's deconstruction of the bill specifically pointed out examples most detrimental to the working class: the jump in the lowest tax bracket from ten to 12 percent, a change in the measurement of inflation that would cause some earners to incorrectly float into higher tax brackets and the elimination of standard deductions and personal exemptions, which includes exemptions such as Head of Household, a major tax break used by single mothers. While it may have gotten a bit technical for a Saturday morning and for a bill that has been generally described by its creators with simple positive descriptions, panelists hoped to demystify a subject that can often be over the heads of laypeople.

Malik used his time to address the perspective of the medical community, which views this as a continuation of the Republican's perpetual war against the Affordable Care Act. This is done by starving the two major government funded insurance programs, Medicare and Medicaid, of funding, possibly causing an implosion of programs that serve 53 percent of the population.

“Their attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act have failed over and over again," Malik said. "Now what they are doing is instead of saving Repeal and Replace, having a tax proposal, say it's going to help the middle class but really in the end it's going to decimate the healthcare system.”

The risks posed to Medicare and Medicaid particularly bothered Scruggs, who said losing those programs would expose the black community she represents to unnecessary risks.

“If the reality is that this tax reform is going to be financed by the slashing of Medicare and Medicaid, we better get ready for anarchy," Scruggs said. "The implication to lower and working class families is going to be devastating in a community where health care is essential and we are disproportionally sicker.”

While the NAACP has yet to announce a national platform regarding Trump's tax plan, Scruggssaid she  intends to locally create discussions and movements in regards to certain key points, namely the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Head of Household tax break.

 As to what can be done, activists hope to stall the process “making life hell” for congressional representatives slated to vote on the bill, Mike Thomas of Indivisible FL-13 said. The contact information for Marco Rubio, a supporter of the plan, and Bill Nelson and Charlie Crist, who oppose it, was provided for attendees.

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