SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – With their placards bobbing like white caps on a sea of brightly colored T-shirts, 10,000 trade unionists flooded the street in front of the state capitol here in a “Solidarity Day” show of togetherness April 24.

Waving placards proclaiming, “One million strong, together as one” and “Don’t fix the budget by targeting working families,” demonstrators chanted and shook their fists at the state house as speakers blasted inaction by Gov. George Ryan and the state senate.

Margaret Blackshere, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, set the tone for other speakers when she said workers have had enough.

“The message is clear,” she said. “Union members and their families are angry about the treatment they’ve received.”

An AFL-CIO legislative bulletin says three bills dealing with unemployment insurance are bottled up in the Senate Rules Committee.

Several speakers at the rally blasted Senate President Pate Phillips for his “complete and unyielding neglect of pro-worker legislation” and proposals by Ryan to resolve the state’s $1.5 billion deficit with privatization, layoffs and cuts in education, health care and other social services.

In addition to rejecting GOP “solutions” to the crisis, speakers demanded that the legislature close loopholes in the state’s tax laws that allow corporations to evade millions of dollars in taxes.

High on the federation’s list of demands is repeal of a 1998 loophole in the state sales tax that corporate lobbyists promised would trickle down and create thousands of jobs. Supporters of repeal say this loophole has cost the state nearly $200 million, while the main beneficiaries – large corporations – have slashed thousands of jobs.

At a press conference prior to the rally, Blackshere said the centerpiece of the federation’s 2002 election activity would be a campaign to register a quarter of a million voters from union-member households before November.

“Registering voters is the first and logical step toward achieving fair treatment in the halls of government,” she said, adding that it was also the next step in “securing the results” of the March primary election by electing the state Democratic ticket in November.

The day after the rally, Senate Republicans and Democrats unveiled their budget proposals.

The GOP plan calls for a 22-cent per pack increase in the cigarette tax, unspecified tax increases totaling $150 million on casinos, and decoupling state taxes from recently-passed federal tax breaks on the depreciation of manufacturing equipment, saving local governments up to $175 million this year. However, the plan cuts the local governments’ share of state tax receipts by $105 million.

Their proposal also calls for 1,000 additional layoffs on top of the 3,800 proposed by Gov. Ryan, as well as increasing out-of-pocket expenses for state employees in the fee-for-service health insurance plan and eliminating a 10 percent increase in welfare benefits.

Although the Democratic plan does not call for layoffs, it does nothing to relieve the tax burden on working families. It also mortgages future budgets by the sale of $2.6 million in bonds against the state’s share of the national tobacco settlement. Sixteen other states have done this.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers leads a coalition from the education community calling for “decoupling” Illinois taxes from federal tax breaks that allow manufacturers to take three years of depreciation deductions on machinery in one year.

Separating from the federal tax break would save the state $240 million over and above savings for local governments outlined in the Senate Republican plan.

Taken in combination states face budget shortfalls estimated to top $70 billion, in part because of recession and in part because of the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2002. The situation will be made even more desperate if Congress makes these cuts permanent.

The author can be reached at fgab708@aol.com


Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries