Imagine sending your child to kindergarten in a school district that is in such a budget crisis, her school no longer has a library, or an arts program, or music classes, or a science teacher. To save money, her classes have been cut to a half day.
Now, imagine that a $5 billion food distribution company plans to build a warehouse in your town. The company expects to generate $460 million in annual sales from this location alone. Tax revenues from these sales would strengthen your community and restore funding to the schools.
But this dream scenario quickly becomes a nightmare, when you discover that your state and town will give this corporation millions of dollars in tax breaks instead. By the time your kindergartner graduates from high school, this company still won't be paying its full share of taxes to your community.
This is not just a bad dream, or even a hypothetical situation. This is what's happening right now in Montgomery, New York. Whole Foods' largest supplier of natural and organic foods, United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI), is slated to receive at least $17.6 million in state and local tax breaks while it serves the expansion of Whole Foods' footprint in New York City. And as UNFI receives tax write-offs and road and utility improvements in Montgomery, local residents have just been handed a property tax rate increase of 16.6 percent.
It's not just New York. These kinds of corporate tax dodges are happening everywhere. In my hometown of Detroit, Whole Foods benefitted from $4.2 million in government incentives to open its midtown store -- even as the city is reeling from bankruptcy. Detroit retirees are losing hard-earned pensions, schoolchildren attend a crumbling education system and working families are seeing the collapse of basic public services. Whole Foods should return those funds -- every little bit will help.
Bringing healthy, organic food to places like New York City or Detroit should not come at the expense of children's education and working families. Companies like Whole Foods and its partner, UNFI, should know better than to extract tax giveaways from cash-strapped school districts, cities and states. The consequences are dire.
Yet American corporations are making a living out of milking tax breaks at the expense of ordinary taxpayers -- whether it is Boeing's $8 billion shakedown of Washington to keep jobs in state, or how big business has manipulated the system to pay only a tenth of the taxes it did in the 1950s. The federal Joint Committee on Taxation estimated there were $154 billion in special corporate tax breaks in 2013. Corporate America is living high on the hog while too many Americans are staring at an empty plate.
The good news in Montgomery is that a civic coalition of teachers, parents and workers is demanding that UNFI pay its full share of taxes to the community and show respect for the livelihoods of working families in the area. Across the nation, people are pushing for reform of unaccountable and unsustainable tax loopholes, subsidies and giveaways to big business. The Teamsters support these efforts.
At a time when more elected officials are turning their attention to income inequality in this country, increasing corporate tax breaks is no way to address it. Workers and their families are struggling to make ends meet. Communities are broken. Our schools and our infrastructure are corroded -- threatening not just our present but our future living standards. American families need a hand up from government through investments that create good jobs and strengthen our communities. But that can't happen when billion-dollar businesses like UNFI don't pay their taxes.
Corporate tax dodging impacts us across generations and over time. It is corrosive. It is unethical. It is unsustainable.