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Retiree uses social media to fight proposed pension tax



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Mary Lee Woodward created a Facebook page that led to the March 15 rally in Lansing to protest Gov. Rick Synder’s plan to tax pensions. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
March 16, 2011 - By C.J. Carnacchio

Leader Editor

It was on the Ides of March in 44 B.C. that the Roman dictator Julius Caesar lost his power and his life to the daggers of men who believed he had gone too far.

That's precisely why Mary Lee Woodward chose March 15 as the date for her protest rally against Gov. Rick Snyder's proposal to tax both private and public pensions.

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"I wanted a significant date," said the Oxford resident and retiree, who will turn 63 next month. "I did that on purpose."

Woodward was one of what she estimated to be about 2,000 people who showed up for the rally at the state Capitol. The Associated Press stated the crowd was over 1,000.

"Everything went well. It was great," Woodward said.

Unlike those who conspired against Caesar, Woodward isn't using daggers – or weapons of any kind – to bring Snyder down. She's using Facebook.

Her Facebook page "Michigan Seniors/Retirees Protest Tax on Pensions" served as the main vehicle through which she promoted the protest rally. As of March 14, the page had received more than 118,000 visits since she created it in mid-February.

"I started getting hits right away from people," said Woodward, who noted she was featured on a 6 p.m. WXYZ-TV Channel 7 newscast just two days after posting the page.

Woodward's Facebook page garnered so much attention that even the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) took notice and ended up being one of the protest rally's main sponsors.

"I approached them," she said. "This thing was too big for one person like me to organize."

It was while watching a TV newscast and eating dinner that Woodward first learned of Snyder's plan to tax all public and private pensions – with the exception of Social Security income – in order to generate an estimated $900 million in revenue for the state's coffers.

"My heart just fell to the pit of my stomach. I lost my appetite pretty quick," she said.

Right now, individual retirees are not taxed on the first $45,120 of their private pensions. The threshold is $90,240 for married couples filing jointly.

Pensions for retired public employees, such as police officers, firefighters and teachers, are not taxed at all by the state.

Snyder's plan would remove all of those exemptions, making every pension dollar taxable.

This hits close to home for Woodward, who retired from General Motors in November 2001 after 30 years. Eighteen of those years were spent at the Orion assembly plant.

"I'm on a fixed income now," Woodward said. "I just bought this house in August. I have vehicle that's a year-and-a-half-old. So, everything's very tight. I'm already cutting back because I purchased a house."

She views Snyder's proposed tax on her pension as throwing a "monkey wrench" into her finances.

"If I get my pension taxed, I'm going to lose my truck because that's going to be the first thing to go. I would give up the truck before I would give up my home," Woodward said. "I'm not even going to have the money to get a clunker."

Woodward said this proposed pension tax "has turned my world upside down" and is "creating a lot of anxiety."

"I had a nightmare about it last night," she said.

Her opposition to the proposed pension tax isn't based solely on her own financial needs.

"There's poor people out there that have it worse off than I do," Woodward said.

She said the middle class has "already taken the hits" via shrinking wages, reduced benefits and the rising price of everything from gasoline to groceries.

"They want to take more money out of our pocket and that's just not fair," Woodward said. "I just see them as going after the middle class and the lower class people. The rich and the businesses are going to be okay – they got the money."

Woodward's already created another Facebook page and this one's aimed at kicking Snyder out of office. It's called "Michigan Citizens Unite Recall Governor Rick Snyder."

"Rick Snyder paid $6 million of his own money for his slick media (campaign)," Woodward said. "He bought the Michigan voters. That's my opinion. That's why the other (candidates) didn't even have a chance."

Given the huge response Woodward's anti-pension tax page generated, Snyder could find his political career as dead as Caesar's.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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