Two American traditions — exercising free speech and paying taxes — collided Thursday afternoon outside the downtown post office.
Procrastinating taxpayers passed by people who seized the opportunity presented by the tax deadline to pass out fliers, gather signatures and give speeches on what is traditionally the busiest mailing day of the year.
Mid-Missouri Peaceworks volunteers were at the post office when it opened and planned to remain until midnight. They distributed fliers and held a lunch-hour rally, calling for a more progressive tax system and criticizing the Bush administration’s tax cuts, as well as the war in Iraq.
“We are seeing our taxes being grossly misspent on domination in Iraq that actually threatens our security,” Mark Haim, Peaceworks director, said.
Haim and other speakers stood in the bed of a pickup and spoke into a microphone for about 15 minutes before their rally was shut down by Columbia police officer Mark Brotemarkle, who said a noise complaint had been made.
“I don’t doubt someone complained,” Haim said. “I’m sure they were complaining about our politics and not the level of our voice.”
The city ordinance that Brotemarkle showed Haim states it is illegal to use “radio, phonograph ... or a similar device for producing or amplifying sound in a manner that disturbs the peace, quiet or comfort of the neighboring inhabitants.”
Not all of the post office’s patrons Thursday agreed with Peaceworks’ opinions. MU student and volunteer firefighter Josh Creamer, 22, who was mailing his taxes right before heading to a job interview, said he supports Bush’s tax cuts, even though he doesn’t directly benefit from them.
“In principal, I’m for it,” he said. “It might not affect me now, but if I get this job, it might.”
Taxes were the topic at Thursday night’s Grass Roots Organizing meeting at Oak Towers, too, but not federal taxes.
Barbara Ross, director of the Jefferson City Catholic diocese’s social justice office, lectured the group on Missouri’s tax structure, focusing on antiquated aspects of the state tax law and the negative impact it has on poorer residents.
Ross said Missouri has a graduated income tax, meaning as one’s income increases so does the percentage of taxes one pays. The law’s income levels were set in 1931 and have never been adjusted for inflation, according to Ross.
The peak income level is still $9,000, just as it was in 1931, she said. Above that, people pay 6 percent of their income in taxes.
Adjusted for inflation, $9,000 in 1931 would be $543,000 in 2003, Ross said, stressing the need for the graduated levels to be revised.
Ross said the tax structure in Missouri is unfair because the tax burden falls more heavily on the poor. In Missouri, the poorest 20 percent of the population carry 9.9 percent of the tax burden while the wealthiest 1 percent cover 5.3 percent of it, Ross said.