Madigan: Corporate tax breaks need review

CHAMPAIGN – House Speaker Michael Madigan on Wednesday sharply criticized corporate requests for tax breaks like those Illinois lawmakers considered earlier this month and says he's unlikely to support deals for companies that pay little in taxes.

The influential Democrat also said Wednesday he wants to review how Illinois decides which companies get such tax breaks.

Madigan's statement raises new doubts about recent legislation offering millions of dollars in tax incentives for Archer Daniels Midland Company, Office Depot and chemical distributor Univar to base headquarters in the state. That legislation stalled last week in the House. Since then, Office Depot – newly merged with Naperville-based OfficeMax – decided this week to stay in Florida rather than relocate to the Chicago suburb, a loss of 1,600 jobs in Illinois.

"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 an emailed statement.

He also said, "I find it very difficult to support tax giveaways for corporate CEOs and millionaire shareholders whose companies pay little in state taxes."

ADM plans to move its international headquarters from Decatur, with Chicago and several out-of-state cities have been identified as potential sites. A company spokeswoman declined comment Wednesday, but ADM has said it will decide soon. The company will keep its North American headquarters and 4,400 jobs in Decatur.

The state Senate passed bills last week that would have provided $53 million in incentives for Office Depot, $30 million in tax breaks for ADM and another $5 million for Washington-based Univar. But the House never acted on those bills before it adjourned last week, and lawmakers aren't expected back in Springfield before January.

The sponsor of the ADM bill, which would also require the company to create some new jobs in Decatur, said Wednesday he hopes the agribusiness giant considers the support it received from across the political spectrum in the Illinois Senate.

"There is bipartisan support for the bill that I introduced," state Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat, said. "I think it's indicative of the fact that the business is valued in the state and certainly in Decatur as well."

Manar also said the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which provides tax breaks and other incentives to companies with enough tax liability to qualify for them, is reviewing its process of awarding the breaks as required under a law signed last year.

Madigan said in his statement that the House will conduct hearings on the incentives process next year.

"I think he'd like to have a solid evaluation process that lets businesses know what works, lets the taxpayer know what doesn't work," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said. "I think that's what he thinks is important."

Chris Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois-Springfield, said the House speaker was likely saying the incentives package now on the table isn't likely to get through the House.

"If I were Andy Manar, I would be nervous," Mooney said.

Madigan also is taking "the rational view, the big view, the grown-up view" that corporate incentives need serious review, Mooney said.


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