Hoffman Estates mayor: Sears relocation not an empty threat
SPRINGFIELD -- Hoffman Estates Mayor William McLeod doesn't think Sears Holdings Corp.'s threat to move out of town if it doesn't get more tax breaks is a bluff.
He should know. It was 1989 when Sears officials used a threat to leave Illinois to get their existing property break and move from downtown Chicago to Hoffman Estates.
Now, McLeod worries his town could be the one losing a major employer as lawmakers are stuck in gridlock trying to extend that tax deal to keep Sears in Illinois. Sears executives plan to decide by the end of the year where the company's headquarters will be located, but lawmakers at present have no plan to meet again before that deadline.
"Obviously, we would like to have it resolved with certainty," McLeod said.
That will be difficult.
Even though McLeod, Sears executives, local lawmakers and officials from Community Unit District 300 hammered out a property-tax break agreement they could all live with, lawmakers have not signed off on it. The legislature left Springfield Tuesday -- a day set aside specifically to vote on a tax deal -- without agreement.
Leaders of both the House and Senate said Wednesday they still think a deal can be worked out.
Yet, House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego wants to further scale back or eliminate tax breaks for the working poor that are part of the tax-break package -- an element that Senate counterparts insist must be part of the deal.
And Senate President John Cullerton, while calling differences between House and Senate versions of the tax-break bill "very minor," also didn't appear willing to call the Senate back to Springfield until the House has a workable proposal.
That pushes up against end-of-year deadlines set by Sears and by the Chicago-based CME Group, which also is part of the tax-break legislation, to decide whether they will move out of state.
Lawmakers could return to Springfield whenever they want to handle the bill, McLeod noted, though nothing is scheduled.
"It doesn't have to go until next year," McLeod said. "And I hope it won't."
Cross said Wednesday that he hopes to hear from top House Democrats in the coming days about meeting to try to work out a deal.
Cross wants to put the focus on economic development, saying "we don't have any extra money" for tax breaks for the working poor that are part of the package.
Negotiating a deal on that point might be difficult, or impossible. Senate Democrats and Gov. Pat Quinn are calling for the opposite, wanting any corporate tax relief to come with breaks for working people as well.
"That's going to take some talking to see how we can do that," Cross said.
Cullerton, though, pointed out that the Senate approved a tax-break proposal Tuesday. The Chicago Democrat said it's up to the House to come up with a new one.
The competing proposals raised questions about why lawmakers traveled to Springfield for the specially scheduled day in session without having an agreed plan in place.
Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, predicted that could happen
because the bill didn't get put into writing until Sunday afternoon.
Harris was the Republican point person working with a handful of Democrats to put together tax-break legislation over the Thanksgiving week for the whole House to consider.
Harris warned, though, that because the agreement was between a select few lawmakers, it wouldn't be clear until they all went to Springfield how everyone felt about it.
"We had what I call the difficulty of distance," he said.
Senate leaders said the House plan didn't have enough help for the working poor. And the House rejected the Senate's plan by an overwhelming 8-99 vote.
"So that doesn't have a lot of traction," Cross said.
How another proposal will be received -- or when a new one will emerge -- remains unclear. While lawmakers could return anytime if they find some common ground, the holiday season fast approaches and convincing lawmakers to go back to Springfield becomes more difficult as a result.