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posted: 11/23/2011 5:00 AM

Editorial: Legislature should judge Sears deal on its own merit

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  • Mark Welsh/  Hoffman Estates officials are worried that Sears Holdings might just be packing their bags and heading out of town leaving the Prairie Stone campus area in Hoffman Estates.

      Mark Welsh/ Hoffman Estates officials are worried that Sears Holdings might just be packing their bags and heading out of town leaving the Prairie Stone campus area in Hoffman Estates.

By Daily Herald Editorial Board

After months at odds, representatives of Sears Holdings, Community Unit District 300 and Hoffman Estates sat down in an office at the state Capitol in Springfield last week and tentatively agreed on the rough outlines of a tax incentive plan meant to keep Sears from moving out of the suburbs.

It's the very definition of compromise, with everyone getting something and everyone giving on something, and we congratulate the parties for that. While details are being worked out, the gist appears to be that Sears would get a property tax break worth about $11.5 million a year. District 300 would get more tax revenue from the Sears property than it gets now but not as much as school officials has hoped. Hoffman Estates, which pushed hard for Sears tax breaks, would get about the same amount in tax collections from the Sears property as it does now.

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Such an agreement should go a long way toward prodding lawmakers to look favorably on the tax proposal and keep the retail giant -- and its 6,100 employees -- in Hoffman Estates.

So, it's a done deal, right? Hardly.

The Sears deal has gotten rolled up in a massive tax-break initiative, overshadowed by the giant CME Group and its hope for state tax incentives, as well as legislators' demands for tax breaks for other businesses, the working poor and more.

Proponents see that kind of something-for-everyone bill as a way to garner widespread support among lawmakers statewide. But such a massive umbrella bill also faces major challenges, not the least of which is a price tag now estimated at $850 million.

Couple that with what's considered to be the deadline for passage: just a day, Tuesday, Nov. 29, when the legislature is scheduled to be in session for the last time this year. Both Sears and CME Group threaten to pull up stakes and leave Illinois if there's no agreement on tax breaks by the end of this year.

While such umbrella bills might draw votes, they also can be easy to topple, like a gigantic game of Jenga, if any one piece shifts just a little. Just look at another notorious umbrella bill on the legislative agenda this year. The giant gambling expansion package had five new casinos, including one in Lake County, and slot machines at horse-racing tracks such as Arlington Park and at O'Hare and Midway airports. Passed by the General Assembly once, it was criticized by Gov. Pat Quinn as too big and has seen support drop away since then, though it, too, might resurface to compete for legislators' attention Nov. 29.

Retaining Sears in the suburbs is too important to relegate it to such an uncertain fate. We urge legislative leaders to peel the Sears tax incentives away from the larger bill and approve the measure on its own merit. With local leaders now in agreement, there's no reason to deny Sears the tax incentives that other states appear willing to give the company.

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