AFT members turn out to fight against GOP tax bill

With the U.S. Senate set to vote as early as tonight on its version of a tax overhaul—more aptly known as #GOPTaxScam​—AFT leaders and activists were out in force across the country on November 29 for a day of action to urge members of Congress to vote no.

The day, which included more than 20 events in 16 states (including Texas, as described below), kicked off with a press conference on Capitol Hill with AFT President Randi Weingarten, three Republican U.S. representatives and the president of the U.S. Black Chambers, an association of chambers of commerce and business organizations. They all spoke out against the tax bills—both the House and Senate versions—which will hurt middle-class families in order to give huge tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy.

By cutting deductions for state and local taxes, as well as mortgage interest, Weingarten said, the legislation will devastate voters—including Trump supporters—because it will lead to cuts in public education and services like law enforcement and firefighting.

“If you have student loans, or your kids do, that deduction is gone,” she said. “If you have a child in grad school, their tuition assistance deduction is also gone. And in the cruelest twist of the knife, the House bill even takes away the $250 deduction teachers get for buying supplies for their classrooms.”

What we need to do, Weingarten added, is invest in the middle class. “We need to invest in our communities, not do something that will hurt them. That is why we are all standing together—a member of the Democratic National Committee and three very, very, very Republican congressmen and a person from the Chamber of Commerce—to say: Please, please, don’t do this. Don’t hurt the middle class of America.”

New York Republican Reps. Dan Donovan, Peter King, and Lee Zeldin, as well as Ron Busby, president of the U.S. Black Chambers, also spoke. All three New York representatives voted against the bill in the House of Representatives earlier this month.

“We want tax relief for our constituents and for our home state,” Zeldin said. “This bill is not what was promised to our constituents and to New Yorkers when they went to vote in November of 2016. For too many of our own constituents, they would not be seeing any tax relief….Some would actually have to pay more! That’s not what was promised.”

Texas AFT affiliates in Houston were in the thick of the day’s nationwide action against the tax scheme, gathering for a planned rally and constituent visit at the district office of Congressman John Culberson (R-Houston). Culberson’s response was shameful. When Houston-area educators and union leaders arrived at Culberson’s office Wednesday afternoon, they were met by Houston police officers and private security guards who told them they were not welcome. Culberson represents the swath of west and northwest Houston where the educators live.

“We had a flier prepared that highlighted one particularly egregious part of the House tax plan—the loss of the $250 deduction available to teachers who use their own money to buy supplies for their classroom,” said Nikki Cowart, president of Cy-Fair AFT, which represents teachers in Cy-Fair ISD. “But we were told we couldn’t send anyone in to talk to the congressman’s staff, and we were told by security to get off the premises.”

Cowart said she had heard this wasn’t the first time that Culberson or his staff was unwilling to meet with constituents, but that she was shocked to find a police car waiting when they arrived. “Culberson is sending a clear signal that he doesn’t care what his constituents have to say and that he’d rather have uniformed officers greet them instead of a staff person willing to listen,” she said. “I guess when you’re a chief proponent of a tax plan that will hurt educators, students, and a good two-thirds of the middle class, you decide to ignore everyone except the folks who are contributing the most to your campaigns and who will benefit the most from this scam—the wealthy and corporations.”

In addition to the rally, area educators also sent letters to Culberson and other lawmakers, including their two senators—John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. You can send your own letter here:  https://actionnetwork.org/letters/winners-and-losers-under-the-gop-tax-plan.