Illinois Public Media News
An Illinois retailers group is endorsing bills in Congress that could settle the battle over sales taxes between online sellers and brick-and-mortar stores.
Illinois Retail Merchants Association President David Vite said his group welcomes both versions of the Marketplace Fairness Act, saying they would create uniform nationwide definitions and rules for state sales taxes --- making it easier for online retailers to collect those taxes from buyers in every state. For instance, he said states would have to agree on how they categorize items for tax purposes.
"What is clothing and what is an accessory?" Vite said. "So if clothing is taxed as a tie --- an accessory, or is it part of clothing? If you're selling food, are the definitions the same? That has to occur, and there has to be some very simple remittance requirements --- a single form and those kind of things. And if the state certifies that they do that, they would be eligible to participate."
Stephanie Sack owns the Viva La Femme shops in Chicago, which sell clothes to plus-size women. Speaking at a news conference in support of the bills, Sack said online sellers have an unfair advantage, because they generally don't collect state sales taxes like she does at her stores.
"The advantage that the Internet has - no matter what, where, when, or who - is a government sanctioned 10 percent markdown," Sack said.
Amazon.com has come out in favor of the Marketplace Fairness Act, while some other big online sellers have stayed away. Overstock.com said it supports another bill, called the Equity in Sales Tax Collection Act.
Vite said that bill is similar to the Marketplace Fairness Act, but he said the bill favored by Overstock provides a "small business exemption" for annual sales of up to $30-million --- a level he said is too high.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) is co-sponsoring the Marketplace Fairness Act in the Senate, while U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) is co-sponsoring it in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn said he's not going to get into a bidding war with other states that are trying to entice Sears to move its corporate headquarters out of Illinois.
The Democratic governor told reporters Thursday that a proposal to give Sears $150 million worth of tax relief is "more than adequate" to keep the company from relocating its headquarters from northwest suburban Hoffman Estates. Illinois lawmakers earlier this week shot down a package of tax incentives that included the Sears tax breaks, but Quinn said he'll work with lawmakers to re-tool the legislation in order to keep the company here.
"It began here in Illinois, it should stay here in Illinois," Quinn said of Hoffman Estates-based company. "I think our particular proposal to Sears is a fair one and I think it's more than adequate."
Quinn was responding to news that the state of Ohio is offering Sears a $400 million package to relocate to the Buckeye State. A spokeswoman for Sears declined to confirm that report.
Sears is giving lawmakers until the end of the year to come up with a package of tax breaks, otherwise the company has threatened to leave the state. A $250 million omnibus tax bill, which included the tax breaks for Sears and Chicago-based CME Group, was overwhelmingly voted down by the Illinois House Tuesday. Both companies have said they may relocate if they don't get some relief from a recent increase in the state's corporate taxes.
Quinn said Thursday he hopes lawmakers can agree on a tax break package by the end of the year, though he stopped short of saying he'd call them back to Springfield for a special session.
"I hope we can get all the folks together - particularly in the House - that did not approve this measure, to take another look," Quinn said.
The governor reiterated his support for a Senate-passed version of the tax package that also includes tax credits for low-income families. Some Republicans had objected to that provision, but Quinn said he's not backing down from it.
Caterpillar Inc. says this week's vote by Illinois lawmakers that killed a package of tax breaks for several companies was a bad signal to send. Illinois is trying to convince the heavy-equipment maker to build a new factory in the state.
Caterpillar's Jim Dugan told The Associated Press that Tuesday's vote was a product of the state's "rudderless, dysfunctional business climate.''
The tax package was intended to hold onto Sears and several financial exchanges that have threatened to leave Illinois.
Peoria-based Caterpillar plans to move about 1,000 jobs from Japan to a North American location still to be decided.
Illinois officials have said they've talked to the company about possibly building the plant in the state. They did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
A budget deal reached among Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and lawmakers will keep seven state facilities open and preserve nearly 2,000 jobs at those locations, at least for now.
The agreement saves the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, the Jacksonville Developmental Center and other facilities.
The plan won General Assembly approval Tuesday. Gov. Quinn had targeted a handful of developmental centers, prisons and psychiatric hospitals for shutdown after the legislature failed to provide enough money to keep them operating. Quinn's budget director, David Vaught said layoffs were only considered as a last resort.
"It's very important in a time of recession," Vaught said. "We've lost 20 percent of our state employees over the last eight or nine years. We have the lowest state employee ratio to population of virtually any state. I think one may be tied with us. We are right down at the bottom. We are not overstaffed in state employees."
The plan involves shifting money, although no additional spending was added to the overall budget. The deal will prevent shutdowns and layoffs through the end of the fiscal year in June. Vaught noted that some positions could be lost through attrition.
Vaught said the agreement also calls for reducing state payments to a variety of special-purpose funds. The state's $55 million contribution to the workers' compensation fund, for instance, would be cut by $10 million. About $95 million that ordinarily would go to pension systems would instead be diverted to preventing the closures.
There would be enough reductions that some services in the Department of Human Services could get some additional money, Vaught said. The biggest beneficiaries would be community mental health services, which would get $30 million, and substance abuse programs, which would get $28 million.
The Archer Daniels Midland Company is asking all non-essential employees who work in the company's Decatur office to work from home on Wednesday, Nov. 30.
The company's trading floor will be open, and all trading floor employees should report to work in the office.
Other ADM employees are being asked to report to the corporate office building only on an as-needed basis.
The Illinois House overwhelmingly rejected a $250 million package of tax breaks meant to help businesses and keep several major companies from leaving the state.
Only eight people voted for the package, while 99 opposed it Tuesday. It's still possible another version of the tax breaks could be considered.
The financial exchange company CME Group Inc. and Sears Holdings Corp. have threatened to leave if they don't get some tax relief.
Other companies across the state could benefit from an array of smaller tax credits in the bill. It also includes relief for individual taxpayers and low-income workers.
The measure passed the Senate earlier.
The NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars have reached an agreement to sell the small-market franchise to Urbana businessman Shahid Khan.
Majority owner Wayne Weaver made the announcement Tuesday, hours after he fired coach Jack Del Rio and gave general manager Gene Smith a three-year contract extension. He said Khan will have 100 percent control of the team. Weaver called Khan "a great American success story'' and said the Pakistan-born entrepreneur plans to keep the team in Jacksonville.
Khan, a University of Illinois alumnus, is the owner and CEO of the Flex-N-Gate Group based in Urbana, Ill. Khan had been a candidate to buy controlling interest in the St. Louis Rams last year. In September, the U of I named an addition to its College of Applied Sciences after Khan and his wife Ann, who donated $10 million to help fund construction of the facility.
The sale of the franchise and the firing of Del Rio are the city's most significant news since the team's inception in 1993.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
State lawmakers are back in Springfield on Tuesday to try to pass legislation that will keep a pair of major corporations happy enough to stay in Illinois while also doing something for smaller businesses and everyday taxpayers.
A scaled-back tax package is before the General Assembly after it became clear earlier this month during the regularly scheduled veto session that there wasn't enough support for a larger and more expensive version. However, there is still no telling if the new plan will succeed.
What's now the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group cites its namesake city as its birthplace when in 1848 the world's first futures exchange was created.
Sears came to the city not long after in 1887. The company is now in suburban Hoffman Estates.
Despite their long histories in Illinois, both fixtures are threatening to leave. They are being lured by other states with bids of tax breaks and incentives.
Illinois legislators fearful of losing all of those jobs are back at the capitol crafting a counter offer.
Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion), who chairs the House Revenue Committee, has pushed a plan that creates, extends and increases a smattering of other taxes to the benefit of other businesses, and to individuals.
Bradley's proposal has an annual price tag of $250 million, which is $850 million less compared to an earlier proposal. It would include $85 million in relief for Chicago-based financial exchanges that are threatening to leave the state. It also includes $15 million in tax credits for Hoffman-Estates based Sears, which says it may also move.
"We're trying to create fairness, we're trying to create balance, we're trying to spend the money we have as wisely as possible and we're trying to do it in a sustainable manner," Bradley said. "I wish we had more, I wish we could do more. But the reality is that we need to pay bills, we need to keep these companies in Illinois, we need to provide as much relief as we can small businesses and working men and women."
At about $600 million less than the earlier package, Bradley said the plan he is sponsoring is what Illinois can afford.
Businesses groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Manufactures Association say they are pleased with the proposal. They like that it no longer retroactively reverses a tax break that lets companies delay paying taxes on big machinery purchases. They also like that it extends a research and development tax credit, that it partially reverses a suspension of the net operating loss deduction, and it provides relief on the estate tax.
The GOP's negotiator, Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights), said the plan is designed to benefit small and medium businesses.
"The objective is to key in, for business proposes, to show that it's not just the big guess, but small and medium businesses that we want to help as well," Harris said.
There's even a live theater production tax credit, after Broadway in Chicago has continually testified it will help bring acts to the city.
That wide range is why House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) gets miffed.
"I think there are serious questions about the top heavy nature about this proposition," Currie said. "I think there are serious questions about the issue of whether we ought to just jump when some other state says 'we're going to steal your businesses away from you.'"
Currie suggests the General Assembly consider narrow measures targeted solely at the Mercantile Exchange and Sears. The package has blossomed because legislators will be attracted to the various components. Especially when they are hearing protests like that of Toby Chow, with the Make Wall Street Pay Illinois coalition.
"Let me tell you what fairness really means," Chow said. "It means saying no to further budget cuts, which will pile misery upon misery for the 99 percent, and it means saying no to tax breaks which will pile idle wealth upon idle wealth for those in the 1 percent. It means standing up to their extortion and blackmail and threats to leave Chicago."
In the spirit of appeasing some of those concerns, the package breaks not just for businesses but also to individual taxpayers. It increases the earned income tax credit, to the benefit of the working poor. But the credit's significantly smaller in this new, scaled back version of the package.
Gov. Pat Quinn's budget director David Vaught said the administration wants more.
"That makes a huge difference to that single mother, and it also makes a huge difference to our economy," Vaught said. "So, it makes a huge difference out there for those folks who are not happy with government."
That's not to mention critics who argue the package does nothing for the middle class. The standard tax exemption gets a one-time raise, but going forward it will not be tied to inflation as originally proposed.
House sponsor John Bradley said there is pressure to add here, subtract there, but he said he will continue negotiating in an attempt to get enough votes. But at some point, he said, it will be time to move forward.
If getting a package through the General Assembly is being done to please the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, time is nearly up. Its chairman was upset earlier this month because the legislature couldn't get it done during its regularly scheduled veto session. That's why lawmakers hurried back.
To the consternation of some legislators, nobody from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange present at the committee was wiling to testify how long it'll wait.
Two Republican lawmakers who plan to run against each other in the March primary both say they are wary of the tax break measure that will be presented to them on Tuesday. The measure would give tax breaks for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Sears --- both of which have threatened to leave the state.
State Sen. Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) said he wants to see tax changes that would help farmers and small businesses, and State Rep. Jason Barickman (R-Champaign) said he doesn't favor any bill that provides tax breaks for some, but not for all.
Barickman and Cultra have both filed their petitions to get on the March primary ballot in the new 53rd Illinois Senate District.
Cultra, who is the incumbent in the race, currently represents the old 53rd Senate District, and he said his experience as a lawmaker gives him an advantage over Barickman.
"It's up to him to convince people that they need a change," Cultra said. "The district that I represent, I represent very well. It fits me personally as far as the views that I have are the views of the district."
Barickman is running in his first election, after being appointed to take over Cultra's old House seat. Barickman said he does not want to make the race a personal battle between him and Cultra. But Barickman does say that Illinois needs effective, conservative leadership.
"For Republicans, what we have to do is put the best leaders that we can in Springfield who can voice a conservative message, but can also reach across party aisles and bring some of those Democrats with us on issues that are important, like concealed carry and limited spending," Barickman said.
With the veto session starting this week, both lawmakers say they are uneasy about supporting a new package of possible tax breaks for Illinois businesses. The measure passed the House Revenue Committee on Monday afternoon by a 6-0 vote.
The measure's main goal is to provide tax relief to Chicago area companies that have threatened to leave Illinois due to last January's tax hike. They include financial exchange holding company CME Group and Sears Holdings, which owns Sears and Kmart.
Barickman said the tax increases passed last January affected everybody, and that any tax rollbacks must help all businesses and taxpayers, not just specific big corporations.
"Those types of people need to have a voice in Springfield. And I'm certainly going to fight for tax relief that helps them, and not necessarily the one that just helps a specific, cherry-picked group," Barickman said.
Meanwhile, Cultra said he is looking for specifics in the package ---- specifics that helps farmers and small businesses, like a lower inheritance tax and a restoration of the research and development tax credit for corporations.
"These were all things that were in place, that were done away with, that we created more reasons for people not to invest in Illinois. And it just makes common sense to have these things in place," Cultra said.
The latest version of the tax break package released on Monday would restore the tax credit, and make changes in the estate tax. It would also include tax breaks for families and the poor.
The new 53rd Senate District includes all of Ford and Iroquois Counties, and also parts of McLean and Vermilion. Barickman and Cultra used the first day of the filing period to file their petitions for the March 20th Republican primary.
Candidates have until next Monday to file petitions in state and local races.
UPDATE: The Champaign Center Partnership confirmed Saturday afternoon that the Parade of Lights would go on as scheduled at 6 PM. Executive Director TJ Blakeman says despite a weather forecast of rain tonight, they have hopes that it won't begin until after the parade is over.
What's known as Small Business Saturday around the country is being used as a day to spotlight local businesses in the oldest commercial areas of Champaign.
Saturday, November 25th, has been dubbed Shop Local Saturday by the Champaign Center Partnership, which promotes businesses in the Downtown, Midtown and Campustown areas. Executive Director TJ Blakeman says that area features some of Champaign's most vigorous local businesses.
"What's great about our Downtown, Campus and Midtown merchants is that most of them, if not, a majority of them have put their heart and soul into their business", says Blakeman. "And I think it's really important for the community to come out and support them. They are the backbone of our Center-City districts, and we want to focus as much attention on that as we can, and really encourage the community to do the same."
Blakeman says there will be several special activities in Champaign's Campustown-Midtown-Downtown area, including a visit by Santa Claus to the Convention and Visitors Bureau offices from 1 to 5 PM, special movie showings at the Art and Virginia theaters, strolling carolers and the annual downtown Parade of Lights.
The Champaign Center Partnership has taken over operation of the parade, which was previously run by the Champaign Park District. Blakeman says the parade will have 51 entries this year, which he calls about standard for the event. He says the lighted floats have a wide range of sponsors, "everything from some of our non-for-profits to business interests in the community at-large". Blakeman says some float sponsors are from outside Champaign-Urbana area, such as the Danville Regional Airport, which has put a float in the Parade of Lights for several years.
The Parade of Lights is scheduled to begin Saturday evening, November 26th, at 6 in downtown Champaign, and end with the official lighting of the downtown Christmas tree at One Main Plaza at 7:30 PM. Blakeman says if it rains, the parade could be postponed to Saturday December 3rd. He says any weather-related decision to postpone the parade will be made around noon on Saturday, and publicized on local media.
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