Twenty-eight years ago, I became a Chicago firefighter because I believe it’s important to extend a hand to those in need. My career path has given me financial stability, regular time off to spend with my family, and the chance to give back to my community.
Today, with two kids — one preparing to head to college and the other a junior in college — I’m especially grateful for the opportunities that this career has given me and my family.
Like me, most working people would be happy to see a few extra dollars in their paycheck each month. So it sounded like good news when President Trump signed the new tax bill into law, which Republicans in Congress promised would lower taxes for everyday Americans.
As promised, my paycheck has gone up by about $175. But when I went to see my accountant this year to go over my taxes, I found out that instead of getting a $3,000 refund like usual, I’ll owe more than $1,500 in taxes next year beyond what was already withheld — all on the same income. I was so shocked I asked my accountant to check again. But he came back with the same math and that same unexpected number.
That’s when I realized that the GOP’s plan is a classic bait-and-switch. And everyday Americans like my family are going to pay the price very soon.
Thanks to a cap on deductions for state and local taxes (SALT) — deductions that benefit many middle and upper-middle class families — and other changes to deductions, many hardworking Americans will find themselves paying more in 2019. Instead of the refunds we’re accustomed to, we’ll be the ones writing checks.
The GOP tax plan added nearly $1.5 trillion to the deficit, while slashing taxes for the very wealthy and big corporations. According to the Tax Policy Center, 83 percent of the tax bill’s cuts will go to the top 1 percent in our country. Ending SALT deductions is a way for the GOP to help raise revenue to cover the cost of those cuts — leaving working families like mine to foot the bill for tax giveaways to those who need them least.
For me, that means I’ll have less money to take care of my family and my property. Last year, I reinvested my return to make important improvements to my house and the apartment I rent out. Some of these costs I can predict, but there’s always something that comes up whether it’s basic maintenance or serious roof repairs. And as a parent with one daughter in college and one about to start, every penny counts. A $4,500 change in my taxes is a lot of pennies. I’ve saved to make sure my children’s college education isn’t a heavy financial burden on them, but without my usual return, my financial plans may need to change.
Everyday Americans are paying in other ways, too. These tax cuts for the wealthy are being used to justify cuts to programs that help communities — including the one where I grew up and continue to serve as a firefighter today.
The hidden reality of the GOP tax plan is that most working and middle-class taxpayers will see their taxes go up over the next 10 years. Millions more will face cuts to programs that help them cover the basics. Republican legislators are hoping we won’t notice until 2019, after we cast our ballots in the 2018 midterm elections.
I’m not fooled that easily. Working Americans aren’t fooled that easily. We don’t pay taxes to help multinational corporations give their shareholders bigger payouts or to ensure wealthy people can add millions more to their bank accounts.
As a firefighter, I don’t mind doing my part to lift up my community, whether it’s responding to emergencies or paying my fair share in taxes. But I believe that politicians, the very wealthy, and big corporations should be doing their part, too — not forcing those of us who put in the work and risk our lives every day pay to cover their tax breaks.
Chicago firefighter Gary Chavarria lives in Avondale.
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