'Upsetting to me': Mayor, trustees assail effort to quash incentives for Bears or any business

Arlington Heights' elected representatives and staff Monday lambasted a conservative political advocacy group's proposed anti-corporate welfare ordinance, though the village board didn't take a formal vote on it, saying the organization failed to secure enough valid signatures on its petition.

Of the 677 signatures submitted by Americans for Prosperity Illinois, only 544 were considered to be bona fide after a review by Village Clerk Becky Hume. Some signers weren't registered to vote, some had an incorrect address and some didn't live in town, among other reasons, village officials said. It's 13 short of what is required to have the board consider any resident-driven ordinance, under an antiquated and rarely, if ever, used part of municipal code.

Brian Costin, deputy state director of Americans for Prosperity, questioned the village's methodology to invalidate signatures but told the Daily Herald he already collected 18 more names at the board meeting and planned to submit them to Hume's office.

Only then could the board take a formal vote on Costin's proposal, which would prohibit the municipality from “offering or extending any financial incentive to any business or corporation to operate in the village.” But it's clear which way the elected panel would go, with the mayor and all eight trustees Monday night criticizing the ordinance as anti-business and endorsing their use of tax increment financing districts and other financial incentives that have supported economic development.

Mayor Tom Hayes said the growth of the downtown since the 1980s — and its recent addition of the Arlington Alfresco outdoor dining district — is an example of the “positive impact” public financial assistance can provide.

“It is particularly upsetting to me when people from other towns come to our town and tell us how we should be doing things here in Arlington Heights,” Hayes said. “In particular Americans for Prosperity, in advocating for their so-called anti-corporate welfare ordinance, has accused Arlington Heights of cronyism, making deals with political insiders and, most recently and most upsetting, negotiating a special deal behind closed doors to force taxpayers to subsidize the Chicago Bears' football stadium.

“I'm here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth, because that's not the way we do business here in Arlington Heights.”

The ordinance doesn't mention the Bears specifically, but the NFL franchise's ask for public funds to help pay for the non-stadium portion of its proposed Arlington Park redevelopment has drawn the anti-tax group's ire.

“Our proposition is that all businesses are treated equally under the law,” said Costin, making reference to the Declaration of Independence, Illinois' constitution, and Arlington Heights' diversity, equity and inclusion statement. “What's extreme about wanting the village of Arlington Heights to live up to its own words?”

Costin said the ordinance wouldn't put the village at a competitive disadvantage compared to its neighbors, could lead to lower taxes and less red tape, and could reduce the “cronyism of picking winners and losers in the economy.”

After a lengthy PowerPoint presentation by Village Manager Randy Recklaus about the village's development incentive programs and process, a number of civic leaders and business owners — including the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce, local League of Women Voters chapter, housing task force advocates, and owners of downtown businesses Hey Nonny and Scratchboard Kitchen — came to the podium to endorse the village's use of public funding that many of them have benefitted from and support.

Those programs include Cook County Class 6b and 7c tax abatements, zero-interest loan programs, and the affordable housing trust fund.

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Brian Costin
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