01/09/2013 06:59 pm ET Updated Mar 11, 2013

Missed Opportunity to Ask Corporations to Come Clean on Taxes

Are you among the few still unconvinced that corporations haven taken control of our politics? Then you should have been on-hand Sunday when members of both parties of the Illinois General Assembly teamed up to kill a bill to require publicly-traded corporations to disclose how much they pay in state income taxes.

Under current law, Illinois lawmakers are not privy to how much in state taxes corporations are paying (or not paying). As a result, they are creating policy related to tax breaks and incentives for corporations for which they have no information in terms of how much they are currently contributing. That's right, they have no information about these corporations current tax obligations to the people of Illinois, and yet are devising tax breaks for them all the same.

Yesterday six out of nine members of the Illinois House Revenue & Finance committee decided they are totally comfortable with this scenario, voting to kill a bill that would have required publicly traded corporations to disclose how much they pay in state income taxes. Those members are:

David Harris (R-IL)
Sandy Cole (R-IL)
David McSweeney (R-IL)
Ed Sullivan, Jr (R-IL)
Michael J. Zalewski (D-IL)
Frank J. Mautino (D-IL)

The bill, SB 282, was introduced by Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, (D-IL) and approved by the State Senate in November. According to a recent poll, conducted by the non-partisan Public Policy Polling, 79 percent of Illinois residents agreed that it is a good idea to have corporations disclose how much they are paying in state income taxes. The proposal was popular across partisan lines, with 75 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of independents supporting the legislation.

Despite these poll results, an agreement by House Democratic Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie to be chief sponsor of the bill, and the presence of a strong Democratic majority (soon to be a super-majority) in the House, the bill failed to pass the House Revenue Committee because two Democrats voted "no."

As Senate President, Cullerton can proudly take responsibility for rallying Senate Democrats to pass SB 282. Meanwhile House Speaker Michael Madigan should take responsibility for allowing this good government bill to fail in the House.

Let's be clear, this is not a big ask of corporations. But instead a small step toward realigning our expectations of them. We need to remember that corporations are a creation of the public. They exist because we allow them to. They receive their charter to do business from our government. We can dictate what they can and can't do, if we wrestle back control of our government. They only become all powerful entities that write the rules of the road when we allow them to.

Corporations should and could be accountable for producing a more clear positive benefit to the people of the state. In doing so, they would begin to demonstrate that they could act in the interest of a new, more thoughtful bottom line. And yet, instead of them demanding they demonstrate their value to us, we have accepted the position of trying to demonstrate our value to them. As long as this is the equation, everyday people will lose.

Moving forward, the question is simple: will we continue to accept a subservient relationship with big corporations? Or will we restructure our relationship with corporations so instead of us serving them, they begin to serve us. The question is clear. The answer is up to us.

Finally, a shout-out to the following organizations who led this fight and have demonstrated they are ready to restructure our relationship with corporate elites and put everyday people first -- IIRON, Lakeview Action Coalition, Illinois People's Action, SOUL, and Northside P.O.W.E.R. Also, kudos to members of the Illinois General Assembly who supported the idea that corporations should be required to disclose how much they are paying in state income taxes. It's not easy to stand up to corporate elites, but these three members of the house -- John E. Bradley (D-IL), Barbara Flynn Currie (D-IL), Arthur Turner (D-IL) - and many members of the Senate did just that. A big thank you to all of those who did.