CHICAGO - Chanting "Whose money? Our money!" a group of city residents marched on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office Feb. 8 demanding lavish corporate subsidies instead be used to fund jobs creation, schools, libraries and clinics.
Speaking at the protest, Charles Brown, a leader of Action Now, stated, "We're here to reclaim our money and demand that Mayor Emanuel put it towards jobs creation. Fund our libraries, clinics and schools so we won't have to lay off people."
Protesters delivered a $33 million "check" representing Tax Increment Financing (TIF) monies returned to the city from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, CNA and Bank of America. The CME apparently didn't need the money after getting a huge tax break from the state and neither CNA and Bank of America could prove they had created jobs as promised.
CME is the world's largest futures trading market and reported profits of $745 million in 2011, up from $196 million in 2010. CME boosted it dividend to shareholders by 20%.
But CME cried poverty and threatened to leave Illinois if they didn't get a break. With a gun to its head, the state legislature awarded them an $85 million tax break.
Each year hundreds of millions of dollars in TIF funds are siphoned off from revenues meant to fund education and city parks. The money instead ends up in the pockets of developers and some of the largest corporations in the city, especially to use in developing the downtown financial district.
A measly $3 million is needed to restore cuts to library hours and layoffs of 170 librarians.
Included in the total of TIF funds returned was $15 million CME had planned to use to refurbish company bathrooms and build a fitness center. Last week the Grassroots Collaborative coalition delivered a "golden toilet" to the CME lobby to shame the options trading firm. They retrieved the toilet and delivered it to Emanuel along with the check.
Lois Nelson, who taught in the Chicago Public Schools for 40 years, is upset by what she sees happening to public education.
"We not only have disadvantaged children, we have disadvantaged public schools," Nelson told a Feb. 3 rally of unemployed teachers and other workers. "Our classes are overcrowded and teachers are being laid off. That money needs to go back into our schools."
Joe Persky of the Chicago Political Economy Group (CPEG) explained the ongoing jobs crisis this way: "Only 58.3% of the population is working now. Two million jobs created in 2011 is good, but at this rate it will take us 50 years to get back to where we were in 2007."
From Mayor Emanuel's office, the teachers, trade unionists and community activists then marched on CME to demand a stock transaction tax of $1 on each trade to create jobs and fund education. It is also referred to it as the "Robin Hood" tax.
The millions of trades that take place each day would raise an estimated $6 billion in revenues in Illinois according to the CPEG.
"People are hanging onto these old theories that the free market should have free rein," said DePaul University professor Paul Buchheit, who works with the Move the Money campaign. "The CME Group handles about three billion annual contracts worth well over $1 quadrillion. One-thousandth of 1 percent of that would pay off the total budget deficit of Illinois. It's just an unbelievable fact that people don't realize."
The CME and Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) reported huge profits last year.
"We are being treated like garbage," said Lourdes Guererro repeatedly as she recounted how teachers and other public workers were being thrown out of work.
"The biggest losers are the students who don't have quality, experienced teachers because no one will come up with the money," she said. "But there is a solution. We are here to demand corporate America pay its fair share."
Photo: John Bachtell/PW