We're nearly four years into the Great Recession and the suffering it's caused. And by now we are all familiar with its hardest-hit victims -- the hundreds of thousands of homeowners who have lost their homes, many unjustly foreclosed upon by the banks; the millions of Americans laid off during the worst of the crisis and still unable to find work; and the millions of working families whose retirement accounts vanished overnight.
There are, however, other victims of the Great Recession that are often overlooked because they're not as emotionally compelling as homeowners and the unemployed -- state budgets. Not the most sympathetic or scintillating of subjects, right? But before you tune out, consider that budgets are much more than numbers and the reams of paper they're printed upon.
For every number in a state budget, there are thousands -- often millions -- of flesh-and-blood human beings impacted by that number. Budget numbers are frequently all that stand between struggling families and unemployment, poverty, homelessness and hunger. And when numbers are slashed, it's seniors, children and the most vulnerable members of our communities who are left to take the fall.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Great Recession caused the largest collapse in state revenues on record -- which resulted in record cuts to state budgets and new depths of pain for struggling families. And unlike America's large corporations, which were back to posting record profits last year, states have yet to recover. In fact, for the coming fiscal year, 30 states are projecting deficits totaling almost $50 billion.
How could states be suffering from such an overwhelming fiscal crisis when corporations -- and their CEOs -- are raking in more money than before the recession started? Since corporations are making more in profits, aren't they also paying more in state taxes?
In a word -- no. In fact, many of the country's most profitable corporations haven't just avoided paying their fair share of taxes as their profit margins have risen in recent years, they've found creative ways to get their hands on public funds.
In the first three years of the recession, as Citizens for Tax Justice reports, 280 profitable Fortune 500 companies received a combined $224 billion in tax subsidies. This sum is more than four times the combined $50 billion deficit states are now facing. If we stopped giving billion dollar corporations special subsidies and tax breaks, we could have more than enough to fully fund each and every state budget.
Nowhere is this troubling mathematical equation more evident than in Illinois, where a host of programs, including childcare, Medicaid and Head Start, have been hoisted onto the state budget chopping block just months after the General Assembly approved a $77 million per year corporate welfare package for CME Group, one of the state's most profitable companies.
The cuts to these programs are so deep that they actually go back in time. Earlier this month, the state notified 40,000 childcare providers that they might not get paid for the last three months of services they provided because their program was underfunded by $73 million. The announcement thrust thousands of families into turmoil as providers wondered how they would keep their doors open and working parents wondered if they would lose the safe and affordable childcare they depend upon in order to make a living.
When CME Group made its case for multi-million dollar tax breaks last year, it made empty threats to relocate out of state. And it never mentioned the suffering that struggling families would face if the tax breaks became law. That's because CME Group is run by smart people -- people smart enough to pull down nearly $2 billion in profits in a still-troubled economy -- and smart enough to know that it's easier to get away with taking $77 million away from a "budget" than from families on the verge of homelessness, young children living in poverty and from seniors and veterans who desperately need medical care.
State budgets -- and the families dependent upon them -- are being doubly victimized as rich corporations like CME Group take advantage of the public's fears about the economy to extract even more corporate welfare at a time when public funding is scarce. CME Group is not alone in siphoning public dollars away from the Illinois state budget -- it's joined by hundreds of corporations across the nation that are threatening to relocate jobs out of state if they don't receive tax breaks of their own.
Fortunately, the citizens of Illinois are now rightfully questioning why one of the most profitable companies in the nation gets millions of taxpayer dollars while we're facing such devastating cuts, and, increasingly, speaking out to say that when state budgets are cut in the interest of corporate greed, it's real people who bleed. And as CME Group's May 23 shareholder meeting quickly approaches, they'll be standing up to the billion dollar company to demand that it give our tax money back.