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Anxious high-tech workers transformed into grassroots activists by an obscure and, they say, unjust income tax law are taking their crusade to a town hall meeting today in San Jose, Calif., to plead their case before three sympathetic members of Congress, as well as representatives from the IRS. Comprised of engineers, managers, sales personnel and secretaries from such companies as Cisco Systems, Nortel, Intel and others, the activists face massive tax bills under an arcane code known as the “alternative minimum tax,” or AMT, a provision that affects about 1.5 million taxpayers. Many high-tech workers who exercised incentive stock options in 2000 and found themselves subject to the AMT have suffered a double whammy, watching their paper worth plummet and then discovering that their tax liability was based on the value of stocks the day they exercised their options. The result, ReformAMT activists Jeff Chou and Jay Cena say, is that many face bills that double or triple their annual incomes — and some owe even more than that. “We’re facing an emergency situation here,” says Chou, a former Cisco employee now at a networking startup. “I owe more taxes than my entire net worth.” It’s unclear how many individuals nationwide have been affected by the AMT stock-option tax, but more than 300 individuals have registered at ReformAMT.org, a Web site created by the grassroots group. The site details the ordeals of families facing financial hardship as a result of AMT, countering what Cena says is “the perception of a bunch of rich weenies who got caught gambling in the stock market.” Most of the group’s members, he says, have annual incomes between $50,000 and $100,000, “which is middle class in the Silicon Valley.” Activists suspect that many individuals have been reluctant to come forward. “This is a very private financial matter, and there are people embarrassed to admit they have alternative minimum tax problems,” Chou says. Rumors persist that some people have elected to leave the country rather than pay the tax, to which Chou responds: “Believe me, these people are in hiding.” San Jose Rep. Zoe Lofgren has taken up the cause of the AMT activists, introducing HR 1487, a bill that would provide relief for individuals ensnared by what they call their “phantom earnings.” The bill is one of several introduced in Congress to address alleged inequities in the AMT. Critics say the law, initially written to ensure that wealthy individuals rich in tax-exempt bonds would not escape taxes, has never been adjusted for inflation and is in need of overhaul. Lofgren’s bill is extraordinary in that it seeks retroactive relief for those burdened by the stock-option tax. More than 35 lawmakers are co-sponsoring HR 1487, including San Francisco Bay Area Reps. Robert Matsui and Anna Eshoo, who are expected to attend the meeting at 1 p.m. Monday at San Jose City Hall. Activists are organizing a rally a half-hour before the event is to begin. IRS officials also are expected to attend the town hall meeting. “We want to ask them, face to face, ‘What are you going to do about this? Are you going to kick us out of our homes?’ ” Chou says. “ We need a stay of execution.” Related Articles from The Industry Standard: GE Offers Concessions to EU on Honeywell Deal Giving It to the Government Cheney Calls for Internet Tax Ban Copyright � 2001 The Industry Standard

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