Don't make Bears fans pay for another corporate welfare scheme
The Chicago Bears have played at Soldier Field since 1971. With their June bid to purchase Arlington Park -- the 326-acre horse track in Arlington Heights -- it seems they're looking for another home.
Not wanting to lose out on the action, Joliet Mayor Bob O'Dekirk has tried to lure the Bears to the 600-acre repurposed Chicagoland Speedway.
Beware, though: City officials are looking for ways to stick taxpayers with the expense of a new field. A quick trip through history shows why politicians will likely consider another corporate welfare scheme to pay for it.
Soldier Field's $660 million renovations in 2003, for example, were financed by the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, whose revenues come, in part, from hotel taxes and a combined $10 million in city and state subsidies. The state covered nearly $400 million of the total cost through bonds authorized by the ISFA, a toll on taxpayers made worse by the interest on our debt, over $46 million in 2021.
Meanwhile, the Bears only paid $3.1 million in rent over the 2020 pandemic year. Bridgeview's SeatGeek Stadium, opened in 2006, was similarly financed. In 2005, the Village of Bridgeview issued $135 million in general obligation bonds for the creation of the stadium.
Of course, taxpayers ate the cost. Bridgeview's bond rating fell to junk status in 2017 which, the S&P noted, "reflects our view that the village will continue to face acute business, financial, and economic uncertainties related to its debt burden, particularly the debt issued for its Toyota Park stadium," the original name of SeatGeek.
Taxes went up for residents, too. Bridgeview's property tax rate jumped 241 percent from 2006 to 2019, from $4.9 million to $16.7 million.
Corporate welfare in the form of handouts, subsidies, and loans is commonplace in professional sports, but it is invariably expensive, wasteful, and unfair. Put simply, Arlington Heights residents should not let officials engage in the same shenanigans conducted in Bridgeview and Chicago.
Thankfully, lawmakers in the General Assembly on both sides of the aisle have put solutions forward that would protect taxpayers from these schemes.
Rep. Joe Sosnowski has authored the Local Government Business Anti-Poaching Act, which would prohibit municipalities or counties from offering any incentive to a business to move any part of its operations already located in Illinois. This would ensure that, if the Bears did move from Chicago to Arlington Heights, they would do so without any special incentives.
Rep. Bob Morgan introduced the Phase Out Corporate Giveaways Intestate Compact in Illinois, which would create an agreement among states to phase out corporate tax giveaways to lure companies.
This would ensure states are creating a level playing field and protecting taxpayers. This compact has been introduced in 15 states this year.
Arlington Heights and Joliet would have much to gain from such legislation and much to lose if they prove over-obsequious in trying to lure the Bears.
Arlington Racetrack is the second largest property taxpayer in the village, and losing that revenue could be prohibitive. The city of Chicago has already lost millions if not billions in tax revenue keeping the Bears at Soldier Field.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with the Bears moving to Arlington Heights. The property would make a great field on which to play the Packers. But taxpayers shouldn't eat the costs of that move. We already pay when we attend their games.
But if lawmakers fail to stop corporate welfare schemes like we saw in Chicago and Bridgeview, Arlington Heights residents could end up paying twice.
• Brian Costin, of Buffalo Grove, is deputy state director of Americans for Prosperity-Illinois.