The two men running to be representative of the Illinois House 44th District fundamentally agree on a lot of issues, but one they cannot see eye-to-eye on are tax breaks for Sears Holdings Corp.
Democrat incumbent Fred Crespo of Hoffman Estates was a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 397, which was signed into law in December 2011. The law extended Hoffman Estates' economic development area, where the Sears headquarters is located, resulting in up to 15 years of property tax breaks for the company, as well as a 15-year, $150 million income tax credit.
According to Crespo, all the taxing districts affected by the extension -- including Community Unit District 300 in Carpentersville, which opposed the bill -- were consulted before a decision was made.
"Some people thought I did the right thing because it helped the region, it helped the state," Crespo said, adding that many jobs were at risk. "At the end of the day, everybody was on board, so I still don't understand what the issue is."
Crespo said he followed through on an agreement with District 300 -- which he noted does not provide any services to Hoffman Estates residents -- to double how much it would receive in property taxes each year from Sears. He also ensured that the law required Sears to keep more than 4,000 jobs locally and require them to pay back incentives if they left the state.
But Crespo's opponent, schoolteacher Ramiro Juarez, thought the whole issue was approached the wrong way,
"I think that people were more angry about the fact that there was no transparency," the Streamwood Republican said. "Things like this should be done out in the open ... and people shouldn't be fighting tooth and nail just to be able to get a word in about it."
Juarez said while the legislation helped the village of Hoffman Estates, it hurt District 300, which didn't get as much money as officials had hoped for out of the deal.
He said he has discussed the matter with District 300 administrators who told him they "struggled to get a seat at the table" and who felt like they didn't have much support from Crespo.
Juarez said he knows education was one of Crespo's top priorities when he was first elected to be the 44th district representative, but doesn't know if it is now because Crespo was a proponent of "a deal that takes millions of dollars away from a school district to essentially give to a big corporation."
"It's very unfortunate what happened," Juarez said. "We have to look into our heart and really do what's right for our community."
Juarez said while he doesn't like the idea of tax breaks, he would support tax incentives for small businesses. He added that he thought the Sears incentive should have been separate from other tax breaks for businesses and taxpayers that were also included in the legislation.
Crespo said he thinks businesses looking to relocate or expand in Illinois should know there are tax incentives available, such as EDGE tax credits. He said he understands why people disagree with issuing tax credits to companies, but said this one was critical for his district's economy.
"I think we did the right thing," Crespo said. "Time will tell."