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From the Street: Tax transparency bill debuts at LAC Assembly

Fri, May 25, 2012

The biannual action assembly of the Lakeview Action Coalition May 6 provided a platform for state legislation mandating corporate tax transparency, as well as a bill to ease access of uninsured people to hospital charity care. Officials also committed to a mixed use development that could bring 200 units of affordable housing to the former Children’s Memorial Hospital site in Lincoln Park.

“When we hear about cuts to the budget, we can say ‘no,’” said LAC Board member Sue Gries. “What we have is a revenue crisis. There is so much power in this room that we can get to the root of this crisis and make everyone pay their fair share.” The meeting at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, 2335 N. Orchard, drew 700 people, including four aldermen, three state representatives, the state Senate president, the Cook County Board president and U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Chicago).

Gries said that according to the Illinois Dept. of Revenue, two-thirds of corporations that operate in Illinois do not pay taxes. “I’d like to know who they are and what loophole allowed that.”

The Chicago Tribune reported March 11 that 2 out of 3 corporations owed no state taxes, partly because of the economy, but also because of state tax laws; past losses, for example, can be used to offset future taxes.

“Transparency is the most important first step toward fair policy,” Gries said to wild applause.

State budget cuts have fallen on providers of human services, such as the Counseling Center of Lakeview, said Allen Wesolowski, a representative from St. Clement’s Roman Catholic Church to the LAC. As a result, people will be lacking key services, others will be out of jobs and “all Lakeview suffers,” he said. The Counseling Center of Lakeview, a community mental health agency at 3225 N. Sheffield, closed April 30 after 40 years of not-for-profit, recovery-oriented service to traditionally underserved people such as homeless youth and long-term mentally ill.

Closing tax loopholes, however, would raise $1 billion in revenue for the state budget so that no more human service providers would be forced to close, Wesolowski said.

Urging lobbyists to “place all their cards on the table,” Wesolowski introduced Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, (D-Chicago) who announced SB 282, the Corporate Tax Transparency Bill. Cullerton credited the LAC with the idea for the bill, which he said he would file that week. The legislation would force corporations to say how much taxes they paid and if they paid none, why not, he said.

In customary action assembly fashion, the LAC activists demanded support for the bill from legislators standing in front of the audience.

“Absolutely,” said state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago). “You can’t vote against your senator’s bill. Of course.”

“It is holding companies accountable,” said state Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago). “It is taxpayers’ money.”

In the same fashion, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle had a captive audience when the LAC asked her if she would put pressure on the Illinois General Assembly to simplify the process by which hospitals must provide charity care.

“Of course,” Preckwinkle responded, being careful to also thank Feigenholtz, Williams, state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) and Cullerton. “We are grateful for this support as we try to seek support from Washington for our system.” Among those who use Cook County health and hospital services, uninsured people comprise 80 percent of those at the clinic and emergency room, 55 percent of those at the hospital, she said.

Housing was no less important a human right. Kathy Moore of the Children’s Memorial Hospital Redevelopment Coalition introduced 43rd Ward Ald. Michele Smith, who affirmed at least 10 percent affordable housing units after the hospital vacates the buildings June 9. LAC officials anticipate more than 200 units.

Smith told StreetWise later that the developer was working closely with both the community and the hospital toward an award-winning project. “There are a lot of moving parts to a six-acre development in the heart of one of the most desirable areas of Lincoln Park,” she said. Historic preservation was a goal, with the developer committed to the nicer brick buildings but not necessarily the more modern white building. She is seeking to have a plan in place by summer so that construction can begin as soon as the hospital is finished with decommissioning in November.

The LAC also received commitments from Ald. Smith, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd ward), Ald. Tom Tunney (44th ward) and Ald. James Cappleman (46th ward) for an SRO stabilization ordinance. Sarah Raney earlier testified she was given only one day’s notice last summer. Raney said she lost her phone, gas/hot water, internet and front desk/security and faced exorbitant demands for rent.

The community group’s homeless youth task force celebrated its success in working with the Chicago Police Department for respectful treatment of transgendered individuals – the first time CPD had ever consulted with a civilian group on policy, officials said. The policy emphasizes that police allow those being arrested the names and “he” or “she” pronouns of their choice; that arrestees decide for themselves whether a man or woman should search them and in which gender’s facilities they should be jailed; and that they receive respect: no profiling harassment, no searching to determine gender and no assumption that they are sex workers.

Written by: Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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