The following is from Keith Kelleher, president of SEIU* Healthcare Illinois and Indiana, on the passage of the tax break package passed by the Illinois House earlier today.
By granting a large tax break today to one of Illinois’ most prosperous companies, the Illinois House has concentrated more wealth in the hands of the rich, even as average workers are literally taking to the streets to decry growing income inequality.
While we applaud the House for passing a separate bill that expands the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-wage households, the benefits of this measure are eclipsed by the magnitude of the tax breaks lawmakers approved for the state’s corporate heavyweights. For every one dollar in tax breaks the House has given to workers struggling to propel themselves out of poverty, it has doled out nearly two dollars to corporations.
At a time when the state budget remains crippled by a chronic deficit – caused in part by the misconduct of wealthy financial institutions – we should be requiring the richest of the rich to pay more of their fair share. But this bill will extend more than $85 million in scarce state funds to CME Group, which compiled a staggering $900 million in profits last year.
From the Occupy movements that have proliferated across Illinois, to the results of multiple public opinion polls, there is ample evidence that voters think our economy disproportionately favors the rich and greedy corporations at the expense of the 99 percent. In this environment, passage of this bill seems politically tone deaf.
It also represents the kind of practice that helped catapult our state’s economy into its current crisis. We’re still recovering from an economic collapse caused by big banks and other financial institutions that made bets they couldn’t cover and then got rewarded with a huge taxpayer bailout. Now they’re reaping the same out-sized profits they made before the Recession, but they’ve yet to invest any of that fortune in jobs for out-of-work families.
Even the House Majority Leader told the Chicago Tribune that this legislation is “probably bad policy.” The 91,000 low-wage healthcare and child care workers who make up our union, along with the rest of Illinois’ dwindling Middle Class, can confirm that it is. After all, they’re the ones who have been hardest hit by the high unemployment, plummeting housing values and declining state services that have been left in the wake of the Great Recession.
Rather than double down and give more tax breaks to companies that gamble in financial markets, Illinois should close corporate tax loopholes and institute a tax system that requires rich individuals and greedy corporations to pay their fair share. Our lawmakers should no longer tolerate an income tax system where the average Illinois home care worker makes $15,200 and pays the same tax rate as the CEO of CME Group.
As we move into the next legislative session, we hope lawmakers will focus on reforms that will improve economic conditions for the 99 percent, not make matters worse.
Keith Kelleher is president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana.
* The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this web site.