A group of about 150 Chicagoans belonging to 15 community and labor organizations drove to Detroit Tuesday evening to join in a protest today of General Electric’s tax breaks at the company’s GM Renaissance Center during the company's annual meeting.
Before boarding one of three buses waiting outside of Teamster City Elizabeth Parisian, policy analyst for Stand up! Chicago, said it was G.E.’s firing of thousands of employees coupled with the billions of dollars in tax breaks the company received over the past several years that prompted her to take the trip.
“Basically their tax dodging cost our state, for example, about $200 million in 2010 alone,” Parisian said. “With that money you can imagine all the different programs you could fund. We’ve got folks here fighting to keep mental health clinics open. It costs a million dollars a year to keep a mental health facility open, meanwhile G.E.’s getting billions of dollars back from the federal government.”
A press release for the group of Chicago protestors explained that the lost revenue from 2010 Illinois could have created 3,900 jobs or saved support services that will now be cut due to the state’s budget current budget crisis.
While phone calls were not immediately returned, company officials have said that taking advantage of corporate tax loopholes is necessary to keep G.E. competitive in the worldwide marketplace. General Electric Chief Financial Officer Keith Sherin spoke at the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday. Sherin defended the company’s tax practices saying G.E.’s “tax expense last year was $2.6 billion,” according to Reuters.
But Parisian pointed to G.E.’s laying off of 32,000 U.S. workers from 2004 to 2010.
“For G.E. to call itself a job creator would be the most farfetched defense,” she said.
Some of the Chicagoans who headed to Wednesday’s rally took time off work, but others like Donna Roberts-Williams from the city’s South Side Englewood neighborhood said she’s unemployed and relying on Medicare to pay her bills. Roberts-Williams said she would like to see taxpayer money spent on government services rather than corporate tax breaks.
“We could turn our neighborhoods around just with the money we gave to G.E.,” Roberts-Williams said.
Much of the group’s anger comes from a report from the left-leaning Citizens for Tax Justice, which showed that G.E. actually had a negative tax rate, but company officials claim the report is false. Sherin said the company is in favor of tax reform.