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Protesters Demand Mayor Walsh and Gov. Baker: #MakeGEpay Its Taxes!

Protesters display placards outside the location of a news conference by General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. —AP photo

Boston, April 4 -- GE should pay its fair share of taxes at the federal, state and city levels, a broad coalition of 34 community, peace, faith-based, housing, social justice and environment groups demanded today, outside the “Welcome Party” for GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt hosted by Mayor Walsh and Governor Baker. Protesters picketed and leafleted attendees, and presented mock “awards” to Immelt, Walsh and Baker for providing corporate welfare for GE, while shortchanging Massachusetts residents.

“We demand that GE pay its taxes to pay for what our communities need,” said Horace Small of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, who helped organize the protest. “Today is the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Dr. King died protesting racial and economic injustice and misplaced budget priorities. We protest GE today in his memory and spirit.”

Protesters noted that GE, one of the world’s largest corporations, is a notorious tax cheat. “GE currently parks $104 billion in profits in offshore tax havens, avoiding $37 billion in federal taxes,” said Michael Kane of the Massachusetts Budget for All Coalition. “If GE paid their fair share, billions would be available for public schools, low cost housing, fixing the T, clean energy, and countless other basic needs.” Added Cole Harrison of Mass Peace Action, “We call on Congress to pass the Peoples Budget proposed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus to close corporate tax loopholes, avoid cuts, invest in jobs and redirect military spending.” Commented Eli Gerzon of Jewish Voice for Peace, “Its bad enough that GE paid no federal taxes for most of the past decade. GE receives federal funds for developing weapons used to commit war crimes in the Middle East.”

Others asked why Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh are lavishing more than $350 million in tax breaks and public services—including free rent on city-owned land—to GE. “The $125 million offered by Governor Baker to GE would go a long way to reduce MBTA fare hikes, move homeless families out of motels, or support jobs, not jails,” commented Small from UMN. “The Governor should be more concerned about the people’s welfare than corporate welfare for GE.”

Added Paul Shannon from American Friends Service Committee, “GE is refusing to pay the $613 million sought by the EPA to clean up GE’s pollution of the Houstanic River. The State should not give a penny to GE until it cleans up this mess.”

Protesters also expressed concern about the Mayor’s priorities. “Mayor Walsh says there’s no money to avoid program cuts in the Boston Schools,” said Nathan Tran-Trinh of Boston Student Advisory Council. “So why is he giving away $25m in tax breaks, a $90m bridge and more than $100m in free rent to GE? We are the City’s future. The Mayor should support us!”

Said Aubri Esthers of the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee, “After Mayor Walsh threw out 700 people at Long Island, he tore down the bridge and said the City didn’t have $90m to replace it. But he has $90m for a bridge for GE! The Mayor should rebuild the bridge to Long Island for Bostonians in recovery, rather than a bridge at Fort Point for GE execs.”

Molly Hannon of the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants took aim at the “free rent” agreement recently described by Globe columnist Joan Vennochi, who reported that the City has agreed in principle to lease back two buildings to be acquired by the BRA in South Boston to GE, rent free, for 20 years, potentially worth an estimated $5.3 million annually to GE. “The Mayor should make GE pay market rent and use the funds to provide 400 permanent homes for homeless people,” said Hannon. “The Mayor should seek lower rents for Bostonians, not free rents for GE!”

In evident response to the protest, GE today announced $50 million in “philanthropy” over five years. Commented Small, “Philanthropy is not a replacement for the civic duty to pay your taxes. Just like the rest of us. GE should pay its fair share.”

Small announced that the coalition is requesting meetings with the Mayor and the Governor to discuss the GE deal and ways to “#makeGEpay” its fair share. Protesters vowed that “We’ll be back!”