CHICAGO – The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) is Chicago’s most profitable corporation and the world’s largest futures trading company. Last year it raked in $1.9 billion in profits.
Who would have guessed the Mercantile Exchange needed help from Illinois taxpayers? But when the state legislature passed a corporate tax increase last year CME balked and threatened to leave the state.
So the legislature carved out an $85 million yearly tax break for the Exchange that will total nearly $1 billion over 10 years.
Meanwhile the state has a $5 billion budget deficit and owes another $9 billion in unpaid bills. Gov. Pat Quinn is proposing a budget that will gut health care, education and other vital services.
While the Mercantile Exchange celebrated its gains at its annual shareholders meeting May 23, thousands protested all day demanding that CME pay its taxes and prevent the cuts and massive layoffs.
Before the meeting started, 15 protesters were arrested blocking the Board of Trade.
“CME needs to pay their taxes,” said Annette Jones, a home health worker whose job is threatened by state spending cuts. “If CME paid its ‘fair share’ those cuts might not be necessary.”
Then 60 shareholders representing Chicago’s neighborhoods, clergy, child care and home care workers, teachers, seniors and the unemployed crashed the CME party.
Janet Edberg, who has been unemployed for two years, bought shares with other community activists so they could attend the meeting and speak out.
“CME made $1.9 billion in profit last year while benefiting from millions of public dollars. That makes every taxpayer a shareholder in CME,” said Edberg. “As an official shareholder in CME, I went to the meeting to say enough is enough. Give back our tax dollars to the people and communities that desperately need help.”
The proposed budget cuts will devastate home child care programs. Katrina Jefferson runs her own in-home pre-school and afterschool program in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Chicago. She is like thousands of other providers across the state.
In addition to providing care for nine children she is their teacher. “I’m also the driver, psychologist, cook, dietician, and potty trainer. I do it all,” said Jefferson.
“I’m here for the parents, because if they don’t receive these child care benefits they won’t be able to work or go to school. 99% are single mothers.”
Jefferson says if the program is slashed or parents are forced to pay higher co-pays, it will make it impossible for her to do her job.
“I don’t want to shut down. What are the parents going to do?”
The cuts will have a devastating impact on senior citizens too. “My wife is 88 years old and is afraid of being shipped to a nursing home if we lose our home care if they make these cuts,” said Abraham Bassford with the Jane Adams Senior Caucus. “She has no Medicaid.”
Another CME shareholder was Alejandro Villatoro, a two-time Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran with 12 years of service. On May 20, Villatoro was one of nearly 50 veterans who returned their service medals during the NATO Summit to protest the wars and military spending.
“In the midst of war, everyone pays a price for our men and women in the armed forces,” he said. “We pay 30% in taxes to keep the country safe. Is CME paying its fair share?”
Villatoro said he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The local Veterans Administration hospital is so overwhelmed and understaffed that each caseworker is seeing 20-30 veterans per shift and there is no separate facility for women vets.
“Why would CME require a tax break during a time of war? Shouldn’t they be making a sacrifice like I did?” he asked.
“How do you fix the budget deficit?” the crowd yelled. “Tax, tax, tax the rich!”