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D300 to fight against latest, ‘horrible’ Sears tax break bill

What about House Bill 3793?

Read what District 300 had to say about another bill that may come to a vote during the veto session that would impact property tax dollars for all districts in tax-capped counties and General State Aid appropriations for all Illinois school districts. tinyurl.com/cnbylines

Updated: December 9, 2011 8:14AM



Community Unit School District 300 will be back in Springfield today when the Illinois General Assembly’s veto session resumes, this time “in the red” — literally, wearing red T-shirts — as the district’s budget will be “if we’re not successful this week.”

That’s according to District 300 spokeswoman Allison Strupeck, one of about 20 district, parent and community leaders who are in Springfield for the last three days of the veto session to ensure “a fair compromise” on legislation to keep Sears in Illinois.

“Our goal this week is to make sure we receive a fair amount of property taxes from the EDA (Sears economic development area), and transparency and accountability are likewise addressed,” Strupeck said.

“We will not rest until these things are addressed. We will not go quietly into the night.”

Those plans came Monday after House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, filed an amendment to Senate Bill 397 to provide incentives to Sears and other companies to stay in Illinois.

The Carpentersville-area school district for months has opposed an amendment to another bill — Senate Bill 540 — that would extend tax breaks another 15 years for the economic development area surrounding Sears corporate headquarters in Hoffman Estates.

Those incentives are set to expire at the end of 2012, and Sears has said it will decide whether to stay in Illinois by the end of this year. Without the tax breaks, the company has said, relocation offers from cities such as Austin, Texas, and Columbus, Ohio, would be more attractive.

But District 300 has said those breaks would divert about $14 million in property taxes from the district to the EDA each year. The district kicked off the veto session in October with a protest by about 1,000 students, teachers and administrators outside the Illinois State Capitol and, later that week, offered its own plan for a compromise with Sears and Hoffman Estates.

State Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge, who sponsored Senate Bill 540, had said during the previous three days of session he was working on a new compromise bill as well.

State Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said last week the new tax bill would give relief to Sears, Chicago’s Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group and other businesses around the state, paid for by “closing loopholes” in the state’s tax code.

District 300 said in a written statement Monday evening it was pleased the amendment to Senate Bill 397 would penalize Sears if it left Illinois before 2018.

But district officials plan to push lawmakers to rewrite this legislation, too. It does not require an audit or joint review committee over the EDA. It also would allow the village of Hoffman Estates to continue collecting money from the area if Sears left and use that money to operate the Sears Centre Arena, according to the district.

“The bill filed today is horribly wasteful in reaching its goal of keeping Sears here, and it might as well be renamed the ‘Hoffman Estates EDA’ bill,” Superintendent Michael Bregy said in a written statement.

“If the state wants to provide incentives specifically for Sears, that’s fine,” Bregy said. “But it’s definitely not fine to legalize the use of school property taxes to run an entertainment complex, such as the Sears Centre Arena. This legislation is an attempt to legalize something that is now considered a criminal act. If passed, it would set a horrible precedent for the fairness and transparency of the Illinois taxing system.”

In addition, under the new amendment, District 300 would receive $89 million in property taxes during the next 15-year period — about twice as much as it would have under the original amendment to Senate Bill 540, according to the district. But the district said that still means it’s missing out on nearly $10 million each year that would go instead to Sears and Hoffman Estates.

When the session resumes today through Thursday — the last time the General Assembly will meet this year — District 300 leaders plan to meet with legislators and fill the Senate and House galleries, wearing red. The amendment to Senate Bill 397 is set for a hearing this morning by the Revenue & Finance Committee, according to the Illinois General Assembly website.

They’ll be joined throughout the week by about 150 seventh- and eighth-graders from District 300 middle schools each day, Strupeck said. Those students were offered the opportunity to take a day trip to Springfield, with parent permission, to “observe and participate in the legislative process.”

Buses for the trips were donated by district transportation provider Durham School Services, and lunches by its food service provider, Aramark.

And, Strupeck said, if “legislators don’t stand up for these fundamental concerns, our community members may feel the need to express themselves at the polls when it comes time for re-election.”

Neither Kotowski nor Hoffman Estates Mayor William McLeod returned calls from The Courier-News Monday. Sears spokesman Chris Brathwaite also declined to comment on the compromise.

But, Brathwaite said, “After months of discussions with lawmakers, we’re encouraged that progress is being made. And while we won’t comment on the content of the discussions, we are pleased that legislation has been filed that would keep jobs in Illinois, further benefiting schools, public safety agencies and local governments.”



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