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updated: 12/13/2013 5:43 AM

The politics, money behind keeping HQs in suburbs

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  • Two years ago, lawmakers approved tax incentives to keep Sears Holdings Corp.'s headquarters at the Prairie Stone campus area in Hoffman Estates.

       Two years ago, lawmakers approved tax incentives to keep Sears Holdings Corp.'s headquarters at the Prairie Stone campus area in Hoffman Estates.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Tom Cullerton

      Tom Cullerton

  • Tom Morrison

      Tom Morrison

 
 

Two years ago this month, state lawmakers finalized a package of state and local tax breaks for Hoffman Estates-based Sears Holdings Corp., answering the question about whether that company would flee Illinois but raising questions about how future requests would be handled.

After all, it was argued at the time, there would be future requests.

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This week, the new Office Depot Inc. announced it would eventually leave the OfficeMax headquarters in Naperville for Florida, where Office Depot already had its home base. The two companies' merger left them having to pick between the two.

The week before, state lawmakers left the Capitol without extending the company a 15-year, $53 million incentive package.

That late in the game, the benefits may not have made a huge difference to a massive company making a massive decision. Lawmakers had discussed the breaks in previous months but not acted.

Still, state Sen. Tom Cullerton, the Villa Park Democrat sponsoring the legislation, said he would have liked to have taken the shot as the newly merged company considered other factors like lease terms and the lives of current workers.

"I think that would have just been one more piece that would have gone on the Illinois side," he said.

The Senate approved the deal, but it didn't receive a vote in the state House, where Speaker Michael Madigan made clear his opinion on "case-by-case" tax break deals.

"We must resist the temptation to cave to corporate officials' demands every time they impose a deadline for payment in exchange for remaining in Illinois, and end the case-by-case system of introducing and debating legislation whenever a corporation is looking for free money from Illinois taxpayers," Madigan said in a statement.

The big picture

The debate over OfficeMax wasn't as publicly bitter and drawn-out as the Sears fight.

For one, the company wasn't asking for local tax breaks as Sears did -- in the same year lawmakers approved an income tax hike. And Office Depot had an obvious reason why it had to choose between two locations.

Things got a little more heated when Boca Raton was declared the winner.

Major companies' location decisions -- and the thousands of everyday people whose jobs are connected to them -- are likely to remain high profile and political for now.

Madigan says he'll hold hearings next year about the process of granting future tax breaks.

Some lawmakers object to the proposals in principle, arguing the state needs to be more attractive to businesses large and small and saying the government shouldn't pick winners and losers.

"As a legislator, I don't believe the government should 'cherry pick' which companies will receive lucrative tax incentive deals and which ones will not, so I have voted against these proposals," state Rep. Tom Morrison, a Palatine Republican, said in a statement reacting to Madigan.

Hanging on

Next week, the State Board of Elections meets to get the process started to determine whether candidates who filed to be on the March 2014 primary ballot can stay there.

Candidates have to file petition signatures to get on, but more than 120 challenges were filed to those petitions. In those cases, the Board of Elections will eventually decide whether a candidate has followed the rules, gathered enough signatures and can stay on the ballot.

Many cases end without anyone getting booted and nothing changes. But in some cases, a candidate could get tossed, eliminating a challenger and making life easier for the other hopeful(s) in a race.

Final decisions should be made by Jan. 9.

In the meantime, though, here are some of the notable local challenges. The relative worthiness of each challenge is often in question until a decision is made.

Governor: Both Democrats, Gov. Pat Quinn and Tio Hardiman, have been challenged.

U.S. Senate: Republicans William Lee of Rockton and Armen Alvarez of Chicago have been challenged, leaving Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove and Doug Truax of Downers Grove unchallenged.

Congress: Democrat Arlene Hickory of Lake Bluff has had her 10th District candidacy against U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider challenged, as has Republican Manju Goel of Aurora in the 8th District. Goal is running in the primary against Larry Kaifesh of Carpentersville. And both Republican primary challengers to Democratic U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky -- Susanne Atanus of Niles and David Earl Williams III of Chicago -- have been challenged.

Fasting for immigrants

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin each fasted for a day this week in support of immigration legislation in Washington.

Activists have been fasting the last two months in support of an immigration bill approved by the U.S. Senate earlier this year, but the House hasn't voted on it and seems unlikely to this year.

Still, Democrats in the suburbs have tried to put the issue front and center. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky similarly fasted for a day last month and was arrested at an immigration rally in October.

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