Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Vampires in Brooks Brothers Suits

In December of 2011, I posted a piece called Giving It Away. It was about corporate welfare in Illinois. In the seven-hundred days since, nothing has changed.

The state’s finances remain in ruins, critical legislation has not been passed, and the blood-sucking ghouls who inhabit our executive suites continue to approach the state for hand-outs.

With Christmas just under a month away, I thought it would be appropriate to post about the Illinois state legislature’s ongoing efforts at playing Santa:

In 2010, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling. Part of the fallout from the infamous Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision was that corporations possessed the same rights as individuals insofar as political advocacy is concerned.

And three years later, I agree. Corporations are people. So let’s start treating them as such.

In year-six of the Great Recession, U.S. corporations continue to approach state governments for hand-outs. An executive has only to play a few rounds of golf with officials from another state or municipality before legislators are scurrying to round-up a fresh batch of write-offs, deferments, loopholes and (nudge-nudge) “incentives”.

Yet conservatives continue to sputter and rage over the alleged over-taxation and over-regulation of these same corporations. The fact that corporate tax rates are a mere shadow of their nineteen-fifties selves, or that the corporate tax code is riddled with loopholes is irrelevant.

Where were they when Apple CEO Tim Cook testified that Apple’s tax rate on recent income of seventy-four billion dollars was two-percent? Exactly how is it that a corporation maintaining a post office box in some exotic tax haven (thereby exempting it from U.S. taxes) qualifies it as over-regulated?

Much less over-taxed?

While our elected representation pays requisite lip service to the vanishing middle-class and the mounting struggles of the working man every campaign cycle, they reliably enable corporations to duck tens of millions of dollars in taxes.

Illinois-based Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) provides a textbook example.

The food-processing and commodities-trading monolith is a glowing corporate success. They ranked twenty-seventh on the 2013 edition of Fortune magazine’s Fortune 500 list, with revenue of eighty-nine billion dollars.

Less-impressive is the fact they could teach Vito Corleone a thing or two about extortion.

ADM approached the state of Illinois—even as it lay emaciated and shrunken on its deathbed—and coyly curling a strand of hair around its fingers, intimated it might want to move. But they’re not sure where. It could be Dallas or St. Louis or even Chicago.

There are just so many places!

The Illinois General Assembly obediently responded. Its latest offer, while a reduction from the forty-million dollars ADM originally sought, is a big, fat giveaway to a company making a mountain of money even a professional athlete couldn’t imagine.

ADM feels it should be compensated for remaining in the intolerable backwater of Decatur, Illinois. Ask yourself: where are the well-heeled executive wives even supposed to shop?

From my vantage point, Archer Daniels Midland appears to be doing just fine. It’s a little tough to see that they need to be paid for anything apart from the services they render their customers. Their employees are doing a bang-up job, and I think ADM’s towering revenue is reward-enough for their judicious hiring.

(But if ADM truly feels unappreciated, I’d be happy to drop in and give their execs a hearty pat on the back.)

With a mountain of unpaid bills, an unfunded pension crisis that is the worst in the nation and bond ratings that are falling like interest in the Jonas Brothers, doesn’t Illinois have enough drama without yielding to the demands of a blood-sucking corporate parasite?

Exactly what should four-thousand jobs (the number of ADM employees in Decatur) cost—if anything? Furthermore, why pay ADM for hiring people who are already making vast amounts of money for them? Is there any conclusive proof that paying companies to stay outweighs the giveaways and tax forfeitures?

Furthermore, this legislation allows ADM to keep their employee’s income tax withholding, reason being that since there are years in which they have no tax obligation to the state, they are unable to take advantage of certain incentives.

Which is like asking Macy’s to compensate you because you weren’t able to use all their coupons.

Ostensibly, the bill will require ADM to create jobs, as well as maintain its current staffing levels. But despite living in the age of (ahem) over-regulated businesses, I have yet to see a government tell a corporation it couldn’t lay-off its employees. Or insist that it hire.

And neither have you.

When asked if he could guarantee that ADM would remain in Illinois after catching a glimpse of its early Christmas present, Greg Webb, their vice-president of government relations, could only issue a tepid “I don’t know about the guarantee part.”

Fuck you too, Greg.

This sucks for everyone—except Archer Daniels Midland. Taxpayers should never, ever be a corporate revenue stream.

Congress slashed unemployment benefits in August. Now we have the six-percent cut in food stamp (SNAP) benefits. Middle-class wages are flat. Benefits are disappearing—along with full-time jobs.

Tens of millions of people remain un—or under—employed as a result of the corporate-induced Great Recession, which I think we can all agree is just great.

Our Supreme Court declared that corporations are people, too. What I want to know is when do we start treating them like one?

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