Occupy Chicago participants formed a breadline Friday afternoon to protest budget cuts and proposed legislation aimed at giving tax breaks to large corporations. The Illinois General Assembly is expected to vote on Senate bill 405 next week, a measure that would provide massive tax cuts totaling more than $100 million for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and the Chicago Board of Options Exchange (CBOE). The bill comes in a time of economic turmoil with the state facing an $8 billion budget deficit in the upcoming year, according to the Civic Federation.
Terrence Duffy, chief executive officer of CME, threatened lawmakers, saying his company would leave the state if they did not receive the tax breaks. Duffy has since extended the timeline of the threat following his testimony on the bill. In the meantime, more tax breaks and incentives latched their way onto the bill, resulting in estimates hitting $800 million by 2014’s fiscal year.
David Orlikoff, the organizer of the protest, claims the proposal does not benefit the people of Illinois. “This money that comes from taxpayers goes to the fat cats and we never see it again. Until they lose it and order a bailout,” said Orlikoff.
Here's more from the breadline participants:
Other reported incentives in the package include, research and development tax credits, earned income tax credits and personal exemptions for individual workers.
Joining the downtown trading company in seeking large tax breaks is suburban-based Sears Holding Company. The conglomerate is nearing an end to their previous tax incentive deal dating back to 1989 when the company moved to Hoffman Estates. The company claims if the current deal expires at the end of 2013, they would lose out on $125 million. As a result, the company also started threatening to leave the area if they did not get their way.
“We can’t afford these types of deals,” said Natalie Wahlberg, a protester with Occupy Chicago. “People are awake, we have a voice, and they can’t just keep stepping on us by taking our money and creating a society that only benefits the rich.”
While Sears lost $421 million last quarter, CME Group has experienced massive profits. CBOE called its last quarter earnings the best in its history taking in $44.7 million. CME experience a tremendous gain as well with a $316 million profit in the third-quarter. Yet, the CME Group deems their tax burden as punitive. The recent tax rate hike by Illinois lawmakers increased CME’s overall tax burden by $50 million. Duffy deems the company’s burden as too much, but seeks nearly twice as much in tax relief.
Make Wall Street Pay Illinois, a coalition group advocating for putting people first, believes the possible deal is an effort to put last year’s tax increase “directly in the pockets of the richest one percent.” The group would rather see the money spend on funding schools and vital services for underprivileged populations.
While advocacy groups stage protests like the breadline, major corporations hire lobbyists and contribute large sums of money to lawmakers’ campaign accounts. CME and CBOE contributed at least $105,000 to Governor Pat Quinn’s election efforts. Another $160,000 went to Speaker of the House Michael Madigan. The newly-elected mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who has advocated behind the scenes for the legislation, received a $200,000 campaign contribution from the CME as well as $25,000 from CBOE, according to campaign disclosures.
A component of the occupy movement focuses in on the influence of money in politics. A new advocacy group, called Rootstrikers, founded by Lawrence Lessig aims to address the issue. Lessig and others believe money corrupts politicians and the policy they prioritize.
“First, consequences are policies that get bent in favor of the funders,” said Lessig in an introductory video. “Policy, when the attitudes conflict, strongly reflects the preferences of the most affluent, but bares virtually no relationship to the preferences of the poor or the middle income Americans.”
The protesters left the Thompson Center after they were denied entry to the governor’s office. Yet, they continued their chant, “kill SB 405, time for Quinn to prioritize.