Executive Director Reports

Tax breaks for the rich; service cuts for the rest

The governor's rationale for closing 14 state facilities and eliminating more than 2,000 jobs is that the state's broke, we just don't have the money.

Unfortunately too many people have short memories. Only three months ago the General Assembly convened in special session to pass over $300 million in tax giveaways - the bulk of which will go to big corporations and the super rich.

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange alone got a $100 million handout. That just happens to equal what the governor says the state would save in the coming fiscal year if the General Assembly approves his plan to close two state homes for the developmentally disabled, two psychiatric hospitals, two juvenile correction centers and two prisons.

The governor apparently believes that it's more important to fill the tin cup when CME's CEO shakes it than to care for vulnerable individuals and to ensure public safety.

Quinn's maneuver echoes that of Wisconsin's Gov. Scott Walker, who slashed public employee benefits, cutting the corporate taxes that could have more than covered the cost.

Playing reverse Robin Hood is not a role confined to governors.

Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans to reduce neighborhood library services and shutter community health clinics after doling out a tax break to businesses.

Chicago may be the City of Big Shoulders but its corporate chieftains regarded the cost of the 2-cents-per-hour payroll tax too heavy a burden to bear. And Mayor 1 Percent was all too willing to lift the weight off their shoulders and put it on the backs of the school children and job seekers who use library services and the physically and mentally ill who rely on city clinics for vital care.

At the national level we've seen similar retrenchment, most recently when the length of time for which unemployed workers are eligible for benefits was reduced at the insistence of Congressional

Republicans who refused to support an increased tax on millionaires.

Too often politicians are able to hide behind the truth. Saying they don't have any money is only half the story. The unspoken half is - why they don't.

There's more than a touch of hypocrisy when politicians cry "poor" and slash their budgets, after having taken care of their rich friends.

The reality is that there would be no need for Quinn's huge cuts if the state hadn't been playing Santa Claus to the business moguls.

These business tax breaks are not new. But they're accelerating at the worst possible moment, when revenues are low and demand for services is high.

Nor do they produce jobs as advertised. Twenty years ago Illinois manufacturers insisted on a change in the tax law which generated millions for themselves, and which they promised would produce 250,000 manufacturing jobs in the state. Instead they pocketed the money while the state continued to bleed manufacturing jobs.

It didn't help the economy or make Illinois a better place to live. It may have made things better for the bigwigs, but not for anyone seeking a better education, needed health care or a safer community.

While a candidate for re-election Gov. Quinn campaigned as a progressive against an ultra-conservative Republican candidate whose views he diametrically opposed.

Bill Brady, the governor's opponent, said he "chuckled," upon hearing the outlines of the governor's new budget, pointing out that was essentially the kind of cuts Brady himself had advocated during the campaign.

"This is the same program he heavily criticized," Brady said.

The governor's embrace of Brady's approach underscores the uphill fight we face when two elected officials from opposite ends of the political spectrum think it's a good idea to decimate vital state services.

As we engage in the battle to save jobs and the vital services that state employees provide, we cannot be deterred by the argument that there is no money and that these cuts are necessary.

We know differently. Not only are the tax breaks that Quinn applauded unfair, there's also Illinois' grossly unfair tax structure, which regularly provides favorable treatment to big business and the wealthy.

Members of the General Assembly who, after all, approved those business giveaways need to understand that Quinn's proposed cuts are a consequence of their actions, and that they have the power to reverse them.

The December business tax breaks alone would be enough to keep all 14 state facilities open, as well as cover negotiated pay raises that Quinn has been withholding from state employees.

It's time to insist that our state legislators stand up for good jobs and for vital services. They've done enough - actually way more than enough - to look out for big business.

How about looking out for working people for a change?