Executive Director Reports

Tax breaks for corporations deepen the budget hole

How many times have you heard a politician justify a call for cutting health, education, public safety or other vital services by comparing a government budget to a family budget?

"In these tough times families are sitting around their kitchen tables figuring out how to make ends meet, and we need to be doing the same," the argument goes.

Indeed lots of folks facing the threat of losing their jobs or perhaps even their homes are, by necessity, having to make difficult decisions, foregoing amenities that were woven into the fabric of lives unraveling from the stresses that are being thrust upon them.

But the wounds these families endure are not self-inflicted. They're not lazy or profligate. They're victims of a sour economy.

Nor are they sitting by passively, accepting their fates. Many real families are frantically looking for new jobs, while seeking ways to refinance their debts to hold onto their cars, homes, and other possessions.

Compare that to what the governor and the General Assembly are doing.

That's but one example of the general decay of the state's equipment. The physical condition of Illinois offices and facilities isn't much better.

If a family had a decrepit automobile, a house badly in need of repair, and owed money all over town, it might seek to refinance its debt, to take advantage of lower interest rates.

In the state's case, the refinancing could save millions, but it needs a three-fifths vote of the legislature to borrow, and the Republicans refuse to support it for political reasons. So that source of relief is foreclosed. Confronted with this situation, the one thing I couldn't imagine a family deciding to do is to reduce its income. But that's precisely what the General Assembly and the governor decided to do in early December.

Each chamber of the legislature set aside a special day for one purpose only: to pass legislation mainly benefitting some of the richest people and largest corporations in Illinois, robbing the state treasury of some $371 million.

For the CME it was a $100- million-a-year change in the way it's income tax is calculated, or $17,000 per shareholder. That giveaway will also cost the city of Chicago $5 million, yet "Mayor 1%" lobbied vigorously for its passage. For Sears there was a 10- year, $150 million package of goodies.

And for folks whose estates exceed $2 million there was a $62 million annual gift under the tree thanks to a revised inheritance tax.

For the rest of us there was a tiny stocking suffer, an increase in the income tax rules netting each of us a grand total of $2.50 this year.

I guess they hoped we'd be so busy figuring out what we'd buy with that two-and-a-half bucks that we wouldn't notice how much the bigshots were getting.

What kind of family would turn its back on $371 million when it was $8 billion in debt? What kind of family would, when giving presents, hand the most to those who need it the least? Only a dysfunctional family would do such a thing.

The tax cut measure passed by an overwhelming, bipartisan vote, with few in either party dissenting and the governor "anxious" to sign it.

This year, we'll be hearing more lectures about the need for working folks to tighten our belts to help address the state's budget shortfall. Yet Republicans and Democrats have already filed separate bills to cut business taxes even further in a bidding war to see who can curry more favor with the corporate chieftains who write the campaign checks.

Our belts have already been tightened.

Whether you work for the state of Illinois, a state university, a county, municipality, school board or community agency, these latest maneuvers represent a grave threat to your economic security.

You're all doing your best to act responsibly in tough economic times. But the greed that fueled our country's economic crisis is still running rampant among those at the top. It's time to call a halt.