Just days after thousands of protesters descended on Chicago to rally against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 15 people were arrested outside the Chicago Board of Trade while demonstrating against tax breaks awarded to the CME Group, the world's largest futures exchange company.
According to police, the protesters, several of whom were in wheelchairs, were arrested Wednesday morning while blocking a street in the city's financial district. They were among roughly 200 activists who took to the streets to protest what they described as massive tax breaks won by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in a time of high profits for the company and low revenues for the state. The company earned 1.9 billion in profits last year and Chicago is grappling with a chronic deficit.
The protesters were also hoping to draw attention to Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to cut home care services for seniors and people with disabilities by $210 million next year and childcare services by $81 million.
The occasion for the protest was the company's annual shareholders meeting. Elizabeth Parisian, a policy analyst for Stand Up Chicago, a coalition of local community groups, criticized CME Group for accepting what could amount to $1 billion in tax breaks over the next decade.
"We have this conflict between everyday people who are forced to make choices and this huge company that's taken a giant hole out of our budget," she said.
She summed up the protesters' message thusly: "Be a good corporate neighbor. Invest in our communities."
Janice Bolling was one of several childcare providers who participated in the protests. Bolling, who takes care of about 10 children at a time in her home in the city's Southside section, pointed out that if the proposed cuts to childcare go through, only the poorest parents would be eligible for subsidies and all parents would get stuck with a $150 co-pay, twice what they pay now. "You're talking about parents making maybe 10 dollars an hour, nine dollars an hour," she said. "I know the budget has to be cut, but there has to be another way."
Brittney Smith, a mom with a 2-year-old daughter in Bolling's program, said she'd have to pull her daughter out of ballet classes to shoulder the increased co-pay cost. Smith works in the billing department of a logistics company and makes about $25,000 a year. "When it comes to parents who are extremely worse off than me, my heart goes out to them," she said.
In a statement, a CME spokesperson referred to the tax cuts as "changes" rather than "breaks," adding that they will help the company "remain competitive with other global exchanges" and "solidify Chicago’s place as the risk management capital of the world."
"This has been their argument all along," Parisian said in response. "They could have taken a leadership position and asked to put an end to corporate tax loopholes, and they did not. Instead, they said, 'We want one too.'"
Brooke Anderson, a spokeswoman for Quinn, noted that he approved the CME tax breaks as part of a package that also included tax relief for working families. "Governor Quinn said he would not sign any bill if tax relief for working families was not part of the package," she said.
Asked about the cuts to home care and childcare, she said, "Everything is being squeezed."
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