Protest targets Pfizer tax breaks

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Groton - Pfizer Inc.'s decision to downsize local operations shortly after the expiration of state tax credits drew the ire of protesters Thursday outside the pharmaceutical giant's research site on Eastern Point Road.

About a dozen protesters, most of them associated with the nonprofit, Hartford-based advocacy group Connecticut Working Families, quietly held up signs such as "Pfizer Left Me Out in the Cold," "Tax Breaks Don't Cure Unemployment" and "In Mourning for the Middle Class" while acknowledging frequent supportive honks from cars and trucks that whizzed by.

The protest, which supporters tied to the Occupy Wall Street movement, lasted less than an hour. A similar protest occurred earlier in the week outside the PEZ Candy Inc. headquarters in Orange.

Lindsay Farrell, legislative director of Connecticut Working Families and one of the protesters, said Pfizer is a particularly egregious example of a company that uses tax breaks to its advantage - and to the disadvantage of state workers. The company announced earlier this year that it would be reducing its Connecticut work force by 1,100 within the next year, with hundreds of jobs slated to move to Massachusetts and an indefinite number eventually being restructured in China.

"They've built facilities here, they've grown their work force here, and now that the money's drying up and the tax abatements are expiring, they're picking up stakes and they're moving to Massachusetts," Farrell said in an interview outside Pfizer's main gate.

Pfizer, in a statement released to The Day, said the downsizing was necessary because of changes in the pharmaceutical industry and "an unprecendented decline in the global macroeconomic environment."

Kristen Neese, a Pfizer spokeswoman, added in an email, "Pfizer met or exceeded the three commitments it made to both the city of New London and the state of Connecticut when it announced its intention to build in New London."

Farrell said state givebacks to corporations that totaled $3 million two decades ago have ballooned to $300 million today, according to a study by Connecticut Voices for Children.

Pfizer, she said, took $160 million in state and municipal incentives - much of it for building the company's former world research headquarters in New London - only to shed hundreds of local jobs and sell its office building to Electric Boat little more than a decade later.

Farrell said Connecticut Working Families, a sister organization of the political party of the same name, is working to get the message out about the downside of tax breaks as the state legislature prepares for a special session later this month focusing on the economy.

The pharmaceutical website Pharmalot noted that the controversy over Pfizer taking government money and then cutting jobs comes as drug companies help lead the charge to push Congress into declaring a tax holiday on huge corporate profits that are currently parked overseas. The corporations, which left the money overseas to escape U.S. taxation, are seeking to reduce their tax burden in return for "repatriating" funds to the United States that presumably would help boost the American economy.

A similar tax holiday seven years ago led to the repatriation of $312 billion in profits, according to a study by The Institute for Policy Studies, which noted that many of these companies turned around and cut tens of thousands of jobs (Pfizer alone has shed 58,000 jobs worldwide in the past seven years). At the same time, nearly 1,000 companies were able to reduce their tax burden from 35 percent to 5 percent, avoiding about $92 billion in federal taxes, according to the study.

Pharmaceutical companies were at the front of the line, repatriating more than $100 billion in profits while saving more than $30 billion in taxes seven years ago. Pfizer has been among the firms lobbying for another reprieve this year.

"The top 1 percent have all the tax loopholes, and the middle class ... taxes are getting higher and higher," said Gil Anderson of Ledyard, one of the protesters outside of Pfizer. "To take tax breaks and then send jobs out of state when thousands of people in the state are unemployed, I think it's a sad documentary for corporations."

Anderson, who was laid off three years ago from a human resources position with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and just recently found work as a chauffeur, said people are angry about corporate welfare.

"They have not delivered on their promises," he said.

l.howard@theday.com

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