Lawmakers Return to Springfield to Consider Tax Break Bill
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.