For the last few months, I've been howling at the moon over Mayor Emanuel and Governor Rauner's proposal to fork over $2.25 billion to Amazon, the world's richest company.
Actually, that's $2.25 billion and counting, as Amazon has made it clear that this is only the opening round in a nationwide competition pitting Chicago against 19 other suckers for the dubious right to house HQ2, the nickname the PR folks have devised for Amazon's second corporate headquarters.
Mayor Rahm and Rauner call the $2.25 billion an incentive. I call it crony capitalism. Meanwhile, over in a federal penitentiary in Colorado, former governor Rod Blagojevich has got to be thinking—man, what did I do that was worse than this?
Unfortunately, my outrage is unshared by most elected officials, who are apparently too bedazzled by the Amazon PR spectacle to say much about it.
I was starting to think we'd crossed a line and that there was no one, except for a few old lefties like me, willing to denounce such blatantly cynical attempts to soak the taxpayers.
And then the silence was shattered from Georgia, of all places, where state legislators have voted against a $40 million handout to Delta Airlines.
Alas, I don’t know if I should laugh or cry over what’s going down in Georgia. My newfound allies are a pack of Republican gun lovers looking to punish Delta for taking a stand against the National Rifle Association. Talk about giving anti-cronyism a bad name.
All right, let’s break it down . . .
A few weeks ago, Georgia governor Nathan Deal, a Republican, cut a deal with Delta essentially giving the airline company $40 million. Instead of paying taxes on fuel—so the proceeds could go to funding schools, road repairs, cops, etc—Delta was supposed to get to spend the millions on itself.
Deal said the tax break would enable Delta to expand service at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport.
OK, look, I don't really have a horse in this race. Obviously, Delta's been flourishing, so it doesn't need handouts. But I don't live in Georgia, so I don't pay Georgia or Atlanta taxes. If Georgians want to waste their money on corporate welfare, there's nothing I can do about it. I'm having enough trouble trying to keep Rahm from wasting billions on his O'Hare express train scheme.
However, in the most general way I care because the Delta deal fuels the ongoing trickle-down madness that's costing ordinary taxpayers lots of money. To give you a few examples . . .
A few weeks ago, President Trump and his Republican lapdogs passed a bill that gives hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to our wealthiest corporations. Instead of using the money to hire more people and raise salaries—as the Trump administration promised businesses would do—the corporate chieftains used the money to buy back their stocks.
Thus, they sent their stock values rising and made themselves richer than they already were. Eventually, the rest of us will get stuck with raising local tax bills or program cuts to compensate for the money the feds won't be getting from corporate America.
Similarly, up north in Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker, another Republican, forked over $4.1 billion for a Foxconn factory. It won't necessarily raises taxes in Illinois, but we will have to deal with pollution issues since the Wisconsin deal has waived Foxconn from environmental oversight regulations. Thanks for the dirty water and flooding, Walker.
Fired up by Amazon's wheeling and dealing, Apple and JPMorgan Chase are talking about winning similar tax breaks for their corporate headquarters.
This latest frenzy of tax breaks for big corporations comes as many of the same corporate chieftains seeking them denounce Trump's steel tariffs. They fear those tariffs will ignite an international trade war that will raise the costs of their products and cut into profits. Isn't it funny how they pick and choose which trade wars they're against?
But back to Georgia . . .
After the recent high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Delta announced it was taking away its fare discount for members of the NRA, prompting a revolt by Republican gun lovers in Georgia.
"I will kill any tax legislation that benefits Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with the NRA," Georgia lieutenant governor Casey Cagle vowed in a tweet. "Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back."
Delta stood its ground. And last week, Georgia's legislators followed through on the threat, stripping Delta of its handout.
As expected, the civic community in Atlanta was outraged, proclaiming that the maneuver would be frowned upon by other corporations and hurt Atlanta's chances to win the Amazon headquarters—guess those folks fell for that scam just like we did.
Got mixed reactions about all of this. On the one hand, the subservience of Georgia's Republicans to the NRA is pretty revolting. On the other hand—well, they are saving $40 million and, potentially, lots more on the Amazon extortion. Sounds like a solid two-for-one deal to me.
At the very least, I say we should play the rise-up-angry game too. Why should conservatives be the only ones fighting back?
Hey, Rahm—no more corporate crony handouts until you spend our tax dollars on something we want. At the top of my list would be reopening the mental health clinics in high-crime areas that you closed. But I'm sure other people have their own picks. Like more teachers. Or cops. Or something simple, like filling the potholes.
Obviously, Georgia's Republican legislators are motivated by all the wrong reasons. But I'm not too proud to admit we could learn a thing from those gun lovers down there. v
The Ben Joravsky Show airs from 2 to 5 PM Monday through Friday on WCPT 820 AM.