How might Bears advance subsidy bill downfield? By giving Chicago a bigger cut

More taxes at a new Arlington Heights Bears stadium to help pay off decades-old Soldier Field renovation debt could help get the team's massive property tax break legislation across the goal line.

That was at least one suggestion offered up Wednesday morning during a brief hearing at the state Capitol in Springfield, where negotiations continue over a proposal to freeze the assessment at Arlington Park and allow the NFL franchise to make negotiated payments to local taxing bodies such as schools.

Legislation put forward by state Rep. Marty Moylan would also add a $3-per-ticket tax on every admission to a new Bears stadium to help pay down Chicago's debt from the 2002 renovation of the old lakefront stadium. The legislation will not get full General Assembly consideration until at least the next legislative session; the current session ends Friday.

While state Rep. Kam Buckner, whose district includes Soldier Field, said he appreciates inclusion of the surcharge in the bill, he questioned what would become of amusement taxes currently charged on Bears tickets that are remitted to Chicago and Cook County. Buckner, who previously worked for the Chicago Cubs as a manager of neighborhood and government relations, noted the "big check" the team wrote the city and county every year.

"I appreciate your willingness to be creative and to create some accountability in this space especially for the Bears organization," Buckner told Moylan during the House Executive Committee hearing. "But especially for me, for the people of the city of Chicago who still currently owe $640 million on that last Soldier Field renovation: I was a high school kid working as an usher at Soldier Field when that renovation started, and here we are 20 years later still footing the bill."

Moylan, a Des Plaines Democrat, said he plans to have many more conversations about the bill with Buckner and new Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson.

Bears lobbyist Roger Bickel on Wednesday morning filed a "neutral" witness slip on Moylan's bill - it wasn't the original legislation they backed at the start of the year sponsored by two Arlington Heights Democrats, Rep. Mark Walker and Sen. Ann Gillespie. But in a statement read into the record at the committee meeting, the Bears and a coalition of business groups and unions said they are "encouraged by the progress" in the General Assembly.

"This legislation provides an excellent foundation for the Chicago Bears to work closely with its coalition partners, including business and labor leaders, and with all the concerned municipalities to develop legislation over the summer that meets the needs of the Chicagoland region and powers one of the biggest construction projects in the state's history," according to the statement signed by Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren and the business and labor groups. "The Bears look forward to building consensus for a strong piece of legislation that can pass the General Assembly and head to Gov. Pritzker's desk for his approval of a bill which will position the state to create jobs and economic growth for many years to come."

Filing witness slips in opposition to the bill were officials in Palatine and Rolling Meadows, who have previously complained about their proposed cut of state revenues from taxes on sales, hotel, liquor and sports wagering at the new Bears development. Under Moylan's latest revisions, Arlington Heights would get 30%, Palatine and Rolling Meadows would each get 14%, and Cook County, Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights, Schaumburg and Wheeling would each get 6%.

Arlington Heights officials didn't formally file any witness slips Wednesday, but Mayor Tom Hayes said he shares the concerns of his counterparts in Palatine and Rolling Meadows about making sure they all have adequate funding to take care of roads and other infrastructure associated with the redevelopment.

Hayes said he is pleased that Moylan's latest revisions restores the village's zoning controls over the 326-acre site; the original bill would have allowed an oversight board to approve or deny.

"We're encouraged that there appears to be support for this bill down in the state legislature and that people are talking, and that's a good thing," Hayes said. "Hopefully there's a way through this that's going to satisfy everyone's concerns."

The oversight board would still have the power to approve or deny the incentive agreement negotiated between Arlington Heights and the Bears that establishes how much the local taxing districts would get in lieu of their regular amount of property taxes.

But the revised legislation removes Gillespie, Walker and Rep. Mary Beth Canty as voting members. The panel would include the mayors of Arlington Heights, Palatine and Rolling Meadows; superintendents of Northwest Suburban High School District 214, Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and Palatine Township Elementary District 15; and the executive director of the Salt Creek Rural Park District.

Canty, an Arlington Heights Democrat whose district includes the old racetrack, signed on as a chief co-sponsor to Moylan's bill, saying it reflects her support for continued discussions with all stakeholders.

"Throughout negotiation on a new Chicago Bears stadium in Arlington Heights, my focus has been on the impact on our communities - the Village of Arlington Heights itself as well as neighboring communities that would be affected just as much," said Canty, who just completed a 4-year term as an Arlington Heights trustee. "Every affected community needs a seat at the table. The latest proposal is a step forward, but by no means final."

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Marty Moylan
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