Stopping Traffic To Stop Corporate Greed In Illinois

Shutting down intersections as a tactic for interrupting the status quo and bringing attention to an issue has been used in organizing since time immemorial. But a classic action in Chicago on Monday had a different twist. Over 200 people shut down a downtown intersection, dancing to their own rendition of the Electric Slide. The action was organized by Fair Economy Illinois, a collective of People’s Action affiliates and allies.

A recent report by Institute for Policy Studies showed that utility companies have become expert tax dodgers. ComEd, an electric utility company in Illinois and subsidiary of Exelon, with pre-tax profits of more than $706 million in 2015, dodged $47.7 million in corporate income taxes to the State of Illinois. Additionally, Exelon, whose pre-tax profits were $3.3 billion in 2015, paid -$86 million in the five state taxes in which it operates, meaning they received more in state tax credits than they paid in taxes. If they’d paid the full rates, they would’ve paid a total of $377 million in state taxes.

“We wanted to mix things up and try something new with our actions,” said organizer Hannah Gelder. “We believe in the idea of a joyous rebellion. So we decided on a flash mob to an adapted ‘Electric Slide’ to highlight how our electric utility companies are sliding out of their tax responsibilities. We thought dancing while shutting down an intersection would energize our base and attract attention to our message that elected officials must close corporate tax loopholes and make corporations pay their fair share.”

Illinois loses $2.5 billion annually to corporate tax loopholes. Legislation created by Fair Economy Illinois to close these loopholes was blocked by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan earlier this year. The flash mob action resulted in 10 people arrested in an act of civil disobedience and multiple earned media hits.

This action was part of a larger series of Moral Monday actions in Illinois. Fair Economy Illinois organizers and leaders were inspired by the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina and, with Rev. Dr. Barber’s blessings, brought the movement to Illinois. The goal was to raise voices of people of faith to call Illinois’s budget crisis what it is: a moral crisis. The actions are documented on #MoralMondaysIL.

Illinois has been without a fully funded state budget for over 14 months. The outcomes have been devastating.

  • 130,000 students lost financial assistance grants for higher education.
    90% of homeless service providers have or will be forced to cut client, services or staff.
    100,000 immigrants are no longer receiving vital services.
    15,000 students lost high-quality afterschool programs.
    Funding for psychiatrists for people without insurance was eliminated.
    84,500 seniors lost Meals on Wheels and/or home and community based services.
    HIV prevention programs were ended.
    15,000 women lost access to breast and cervical cancer screenings.
    Public universities have had to raise tuition and cut faculty and staff.

Illinois is facing the perfect storm of fiscal crises, making the climate ripe for continued austerity measures, unless other solutions rise to level of political feasibility. In Illinois, decades of delayed pension payments are coming due, and a temporary income tax increase sunset in 2015 resulted in $5 billion less in revenue. The state is still reeling from weakened reserves from the financial recession, and costs continue to grow, all in an extremely anti-tax political climate. Illinois is in a revenue crisis. The battle in Illinois reflects trends seen in states around the country.

Moral Monday actions are designed to take the crisis felt in communities throughout Illinois directly to the people who benefit from this manufactured fiscal crisis. Past Moral Mondays Illinois demonstrations have shut down access to the Chicago Board of Trade and the building housing Citadel, the hedge fund run by billionaire and Rauner’s largest political donor Ken Griffin.

In response to Illinois’s revenue crisis and the depressing debate over spending cuts, Fair Economy Illinois drafted a visionary People and Planet First Budget platform.

The People and Planet First Budget raises an additional $23.5 billion per year in revenue by:

  • Closing Corporate Tax Loopholes ($2.5 billion)
    Enacting a Graduated Income Tax ($9 billion)
    Passing the LaSalle Street Tax ($12 billion)

The People and Planet First Budget invests this additional $23.5 billion annually to:

  • Fully fund pre-K through 12 education ($5 billion per year)
    Provide universal healthcare ($4.5 billion per year)
    Convert to all green energy over the next 30 years ($3.5 billion per year)
    Fully fund human services ($3 billion per year)
    Repair our infrastructure ($3 billion per year)
    Provide free higher education at Illinois’ community colleges and state universities ($2.5 billion per year)
    Increase pension investment ($2 billion per year)

Enacting this budget is a central demand of the Moral Monday actions. “We use direct action to change the dominant narrative. It is still politically unpopular for legislators to raise taxes. So, we design our actions to highlight who is benefitting from Illinois’s regressive tax code and budget impasse — namely wealthy individuals and big corporations — and to show the public that legislators can choose to raise revenue from those entities rather than enact cuts on the most vulnerable,” said Gelder.

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