April 17, 2012 was a beautiful day in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, weather-wise.
Light blue skies. Temperature hovering in the low 70s. Air fresh as a baby’s breath. All in all, a lovely day to be out and about.
But, yeah, it was Tax Day—the deadline for submitting your federal, state, and municipal income tax returns. For your run-of-the mill, average working stiff NOT a beautiful day, money-wise.
But a perfect day for a peaceful protest. And what better institution to peacefully protest than one of our country’s multi-billion-dollar, tax-dodging corporations?
That must’ve been the thinking of the two dozen 99%ers who, at about noon on Tax Day, gathered in front of Comcast Corporation’s Customer Service Center at 1020 Commerce Park Drive in Williamsport’s Water Tower Square.
“Holy Cow,” I said to myself, “an historic event is about to happen—Williamsport, Pennsylvania’s first 99%ers protest demonstration!” And, wouldn’t ya know, the Williamsport Sun-Gazette failed to send a reporter to cover the event.
The Sun-Gazette’s failure handed me a golden opportunity to “scoop” ‘em. Maybe I can get the story published in a reputable newspaper, make a few bucks, and maybe—just maybe—get my moniker footnoted in the annals of Billtown’s inglorious history.
So here’s the story, for whatever it’s worth:
The 99%ers gathering in front of Comcast Corporation’s Service Center are a motley bunch. There’s the organizer, a good-looking black guy; assorted wage-earners (both black and white) on lunch break; two young moms with toddlers; a soon-to-be mom, within days of increasing Billtown’s population by at least one (maybe two) citizen; a Wall Street Occupier recently returned home from the Wall Street Occupation; a couple of out-of-work, none-too-happy job seekers; and, of course, the obligatory college professor, plus a wheelchair-bound older woman and a gray-bearded geezer who claims to be a card-carrying Gray Panther.
The demonstration begins casually. The protesters mill around in front of the Comcast Corporation’s Service Center for a while, waving hand-made signs, chanting “Comcast! Pay Your Taxes!” and announcing to whomsoever might take notice that Comcast Corporation earned an estimated $20 million in PA in 2011 but didn’t pay any Pennsylvania corporate income tax at all!
Other protesters hand out flyers illustrating how this huge, international corporation manages to “legally” dodge its civic duty in our fair state, the birthplace of our world-renowned Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
So, how did Comcast Corporation pull it off, you ask? Simple. They transfer 100 percent of their Pennsylvania profits to a “holding company” in the state of Delaware. Since Delaware doesn’t have a state corporate income tax, Comcast Corporation doesn’t pay income tax in either state. The game’s known as Delaware Dodge Ball. Clever, right?
Trouble is, it’s not a spectator sport. The folks in Harrisburg won’t disclose to us lowly ordinary citizens who the multi-million-dollar corporate players are, or even how many are playing. Speculation is there are hundreds of players and the tax balls they dodge tally in the billions.
According to Wikipedia, the Professor tells us, Comcast Corporation is the largest cable operator and home Internet service provider in the United States and the fourth largest home telephone service provider.
The flyer says that Comcast’s gross 2011 income was estimated at $20 million.
The gray-bearded geezer says that Pennsylvania’s current corporate income tax is 9.99 percent of gross income. And he does the math. If $20 million is correct, he says, and if Comcast were to pay its full corporate income tax, it would add $1,998,000 to the Commonwealth’s coffers.
“Wow!” one of the moms says. “What if all the Delaware Dodge Ball players paid their income taxes? None of the public schools would have to lay off any teachers.”
“Yeah, think about it,” the Wall Street Occupier pipes in. “None of those Delaware Dodge Ball players pays a single red penny toward the cost of Pennsylvania’s State Police, who protect their lives and property, or to the public school systems, the folks who educate their customers’ children, or for the state road construction crews, the guys who build the roads that make it possible for their employees to get to work.
“How do they justify that, not paying taxes?” Old Graybeard asks.
“Let’s go ask ‘em,” the Organizer says.
“Yeah. Let’s ask ‘em,” a handful of 99%ers shout, and into Comcast’s Service Center they go.
There are two service providers behind a counter. “How do your bosses justify not paying any corporate income tax?” the Professor asks. Both Comcast service providers appear to be struck speechless. One of them dashes into the back room. The remaining employee says nothing.
A woman of uncertain age, with a stern expression on her face, comes out of the back room. “We are not permitted to answer your questions.” she announces.
“How come?” she’s asked.
More silence. Minutes pass. Ms. Sternface tells the 99%ers they’re not permitted in the customer service center. When questioned as to what law states that certain people are not permitted in this particular space, she says, “If you do not leave, I will notify security.”
Nobody leaves. Tension does not build.
Three bored protesters (one with her infant in her arms) drift out. Old Graybeard and the Organizer stand their ground, tacitly refusing to leave. Ms. Sternface again threatens to notify security.
“Go ahead,” the geezer says. “Notify security.” Ms. Sternface slides her hand under the counter and pretends to press a concealed button.
The two remaining protesters wait. No security guards appear. They continue to wait. A young man inches in from the back room, leans against the doorjamb, and smiles. The 99%ers smile back. Still no security. Shrugging their shoulders, they leave, grumbling disappointedly. In the distance, a church bell rings. It’s one o’clock. Lunch hour’s over.
The 99%ers hustle to their cars. A couple of guys lift the older lady and her wheelchair into a van. Old Graybeard turns to the Organizer. “I wonder—how do those multi-million-dollar corporations justify not paying income tax?” he asks. “Especially since the Supreme Court has declared them citizens … Why do I have to pay taxes when corporate persons don’t?”
The Organizer smiles. “Good question. Governor Corbett should be able to answer it.”