Chicagoans protested at Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office Thursday morning for corporate tax transparency.
At City Hall, activists with the regional community advocacy group IIRON urged Emanuel to support a long-pending ordinance that would require all publicly-traded corporations seeking subsidies or contracts from the city to publicly disclose the amount they pay in Illinois income taxes and any tax breaks they receive.
Big corporations asking for city actions, subsidies and contracts would also have to report net and taxable income under the proposed Chicago Corporate Responsibility and Tax Disclosure Act, which Ald. Will Burns (4th) introduced last November. Since then, the proposed ordinance, which has 12 co-sponsors, has been stuck in the Finance Committee, chaired by powerful Ald. Ed Burke (14th).
"Resources have been cut, and cut again, as we are told that we are in a 'budget crisis,'" said IIRON member Maria Alicia Ibarra of Bridgeport's First Lutheran Church of the Trinity. "At the same time, it is not clear (whether) corporations making record profits are paying their fair share to the common good ... Show us the money. Give us transparency."
IIRON student leader Brianna Tong said organizers have been in talks with the mayor's office over the ordinance's language for months.
"We've been trying to compromise on an ordinance that would work for both them and us," she said. "We just gave them a final proposal that we thought would work, but they have refused to accept it. The mayor's office is not currently willing to pass an ordinance that would actually allow us to see what corporations are paying in taxes. They're trying to pass a watered-down version that won't give us any information and will keep protecting corporations over the city of Chicago."
The mayor's press office did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
The Emanuel administration, Tong said, wants the ordinance to cover only a small number of corporations.
"We want to see this ordinance actually make corporations disclosure their taxes," Tong stressed.
Currently, legislators and the public are largely left in the dark when it comes to the details surrounding large firms' corporate income tax liabilities. What is known, however, is that two-thirds of Illinois' corporations pay no corporate income tax to the state, according to the Illinois Department of Revenue.
"It's pretty likely that some of these corporations are doing business with the city of Chicago (and) are robbing our city and our communities of resources," Tong said.
Chicago Public Schools parent Jennie Biggs said public education in particular has taken a big hit due to city budget woes and "priorities not being in the right place."
"This ordinance is needed as a first step to give our schools the resources they need to educate our city's children," she said.
Here's more from Biggs, Tong and scenes from today's protest:
As part of the stalled ordinance, publicly-traded corporations would have to file corporate tax disclosure statements with the city at the time they apply for contracts or subsidies, and then report such information each year that they are under a city agreement.
The measure, as introduced, would not compel corporations to start paying state income taxes. It would impact only publicly-traded corporations, not small businesses or privately-held firms.
The proposed Chicago ordinance mirrors pending statewide legislation, the Illinois Corporate Responsibility and Tax disclosure Act, HB 3627. The Illinois Senate passed the measure in fall 2012, but it never left committee in the House. The measure has not gained traction in the legislature since then.
"We want to see (the Chicago Corporate Responsibility and Tax Disclosure Act) set as a precedent for the state to do, and we want something that's actually effective that will actually let us know how much corporations are and aren't paying in taxes," Tong said.
Opponents of such tax disclosure measures, such as the Illinois Manufacturers' Association, argue that requiring companies to share the information would undermine taxpayer confidentiality and put corporations at a competitive disadvantage.
Chicago Alds. Pat Dowell (3rd), Leslie Hairston (5th), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Natashia Holmes (7th), Toni Foulkes (15th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Deb Mell (33rd), Michele Smith (43rd), James Cappleman (46th), Ameya Pawar (47th), Harry Osterman (48th) and Joe Moore (49th) have co-sponsored the city tax transparency plan.