Anti-tax reform carolers serenade, shout in Toms River
TOMS RIVER - Interspersing wryly-worded "carols" with vociferous demands to "Kill The Bill," people from various walks of life, from various parts of the state, united against tax reform plans on the move in Washington, took a stand outside Town Hall, which houses the office of shore Congressman Tom MacArthur (R-3).
The rally, which drew continuous notice from passing drivers sounding their horns, is one of many nationwide through Saturday, organized by Moveon.org. Demonstrators arrived from town, from Ocean County communities from Lavallette to Barnegat, and as far afield as Lawrenceville and Egg Harbor Township.
MacArthur, and other tax reform proponents view the measure at hand as a means of simplifying the code, while closing gaping loopholes that allow vast sums of corporate and personal income to remain undeclared.
As with the stalled American Health Care Act, to which he added several key provisions, MacArthur readily admits that no law is perfect. Among the provisions that he succeeded in restoring to the House version are an exemption for property tax payments up to $10,000, and a doubling of the standard deduction to $24,000.
If the Senate approves its version, it remains to be seen which provisions will endure the process of merging the two, and whether it will mean a total loss of federal tax deductions for state taxes, and for New Jersey's exorbitant property taxes.
None of that mattered to the crowd that shouted chants in between warblings of reworked classics such as "Ginter Wonderland," a reference to avowed grassroots MacArthur opponent Geoff Ginter.
Joni Brennan of Lavallette, organizer of the Bernie Sanders-influenced Our Revolution Ocean County, said that her biggest fear is the full Trump administration, which she characterized as "tearing the country apart."
The tax bill, she fears, "will make life harder for the middle class, make life harder for poor people, take away health care...it's going to let them drill in the Arctic. It's going to destroy our environment and destroy our middle class."
Joni added that she is confident that there will be a deduction ceiling high enough to fit her property taxes beneath, and despite having no health care coverage, she's more concerned about young people who would inherit the problems she sees developing.
"I just want us to have a world to live in, in peace, and be happy," she said.
Her outwardly-placid desire is fueled by turbulence that has given traditionally-downtrodden Democrats in Ocean County a rallying point since Donald Trump's election. There isn't a direct line from Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton to the victories of three Democrats in the Toms River Township Council election, the first from the blue party to serve the township in a major capacity since the Paul Brush administration.
Their mission, Joni said, is to rework the party from the ground up, "to fill all the local committee seats, so that we have a progressive voting bloc, advance progressive candidates, and progressive agendas, and to get rid of corporate Democrats, who take money."
She refutes the notion that progressivism is socialism in a new wrapper. "It's placing limits on greed. How can you have a CEO of a corporation making, like, 500 times what a worker makes? There has to be a limit, for some kind of economic equality in the world."
Joni added that win or lose on the tax bill, she and others like her would keep pushing for progressive policies and candidates.
A companion from Barnegat warned advocates, liberal and conservative, not to limit their information sources to media outlets that espouse their own points of view or risk losing perspective and risk ignorance of what is developing outside their own microcosms. "I am an MSNBC watcher," she said, "but I make it a point to watch Fox News as well."
Gerry Pizzi of Toms River placed her concern on the county's elderly, retired and dependent aging people.
"Many of us make under $50,000 a year," she said. "That's certainly going to be a determining factor for us. We are going to have our taxes raised. I'm [also] worried about young people, with the Affordable Care Act, having higher premiums."
Marianne Clemente of Barnegat, a longtime activist, and Democrat, said that 2018 is a key year for party gains in New Jersey's Congressional delegation.
"We have a shot in the Fourth District [where Jim Keady of Belmar is challenging Republican Chris Smith], we have a shot in this district [where MacArthur's likely challenger is Burlington Democrat Andy Kim, a onetime security advisor in the Obama administration]. And, with [Frank] Lobiondo going in the Second District, we have a shot there." South Jersey State Senator Jeff Van Drew has declared his intention to capture the seat.
Marianne sees systemic problems in the national Democrat funding structure that inhibit the ability of local candidates to succeed. The Democratic National Committee, she acknowledged, "will not get involved in my township, but they will get involved locally in a Congressional election. They have to change their method of funding local elections."
The strategy is rooted in placing funds where the chances of winning are best. Marianne faults it as the primary reason that Keady, the man who Governor Christie told to "sit down and shut up" at a town hall-type meeting, failed to capture a state Assembly seat.
The governor's sharp cutoff, she said, was a "hot moment" that the national organizers failed to grasp. "If people knew who Jim was, we could have taken the district."
Keady began in earnest to prepare for a battle against Smith back in February, and Marianne is convinced that he can win the seat.
A request for comment from MacArthur's office about the protest drew no response.