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updated: 11/10/2011 11:37 AM

Sears deal getting put off?

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  • Lawmakers might be preparing to leave Springfield Thursday without a deal on tax breaks to keep Sears Holdings in Hoffman Estates.

       Lawmakers might be preparing to leave Springfield Thursday without a deal on tax breaks to keep Sears Holdings in Hoffman Estates.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- Lawmakers appear set to leave Springfield Thursday without a bundle of tax breaks to offer Sears Holdings Corp. as an incentive to keep the company in Hoffman Estates.

The development doesn't necessarily signal an end to efforts to do so, though, as House lawmakers are now planning to come back to Springfield later this month.

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"This is a process we have to work through, and there's a lot of details," said Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat.

Thursday was previously seen as a deadline to try to get a Sears deal done as it was the last scheduled day for the legislature to meet this year. Sears officials have said they plan to decide before 2011 is up whether to stay in Illinois or move to another state.

With Wednesday's announcement that the House will reconvene Nov. 21, lawmakers may now have a little more time.

Sears officials appeared reluctantly open to waiting a little longer, and on Wednesday, they pointed to a statement officials made earlier in the week.

"We understand the need for appropriate review by the legislature, and we are willing to work with them on this matter," Sears spokesman Chris Braithwaite said Tuesday. "As a retailer, our fourth quarter is the most important time of the year, and we hope this can be resolved as soon as possible so we continue our focus on the upcoming selling season."

Sears is asking for a package of tax incentives that includes extending its current tax breaks with Hoffman Estates for another 15 years. But that proposal has been politically tied to hundreds of millions of dollars in other tax breaks for other companies, small businesses and the poor, including the CME Group, which threatens to move its financial exchanges out of state if it doesn't get tax breaks.

All of those elements could succeed or fail as a group, or certain provisions could be pulled out on their own. The various pieces are put together in order to try to build consensus among lawmakers, many of whom, the theory goes, could find something they like in a bigger collection of tax breaks.

But as it grows, others worry the state is giving away too many tax credits at once, threatening the success of any one piece, like the Sears deal.

Sen. Michael Noland has filed legislation that would separate Sears' plan from the larger package, but other lawmakers might have different plans.

Noland has backed Community Unit District 300 officials, who have lobbied lawmakers in Springfield throughout the week, opposing the Sears proposals offered so far.

"Certainly, we're observing the high amount of political gamesmanship," District 300 spokeswoman Allison Strupeck said.

Overall, some lawmakers continue to hesitate at the idea of giving individual profitable companies breaks on their taxes without more widespread tax reforms.

"We wouldn't be needing these deals if we were more competitive with all the other states," Rep. Sandy Cole, a Grayslake Republican, said in a hearing Tuesday.

Hoffman Estates Mayor William McLeod said he's been talking with lawmakers, trying to convince them of the importance of the tax incentives in keeping the retail giant in his village.

"Obviously, we want to keep Sears," McLeod said.

One cause of conflict has been how much money local governments would get from a deal.

"The village obviously needs to get revenue for the services we provide," McLeod said.

While the House has scheduled time to meet later this month, the Senate has yet to publicly do the same. More meetings come with a cost, as lawmakers earn a $111 per diem for their time spent in Springfield.

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