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As Illinois debates Sears tax break, Ohio ups the ante

Updated: January 3, 2012 9:21AM

Ohio is holding out $400 million in incentives to lure Sears’ corporate headquarters away from Illinois, far more than Illinois was preparing to offer to keep the retailer in Hoffman Estates, a spokeswoman for Illinois’ governor told an Ohio newspaper.

But Gov. Pat Quinn said he isn’t worried about getting into a bidding war to keep Sears Holdings Corp.

In the meantime, Illinois lawmakers are struggling to pass a major package of tax breaks that includes $15 million a year for the next decade for Sears.

Quinn says the help Illinois is offering Sears is “more than adequate.” He says Sears should stay in Illinois.

The Illinois tax package is also aimed at keeping two major financial companies from leaving Illinois. A provision in the legislation, to extend a credit for low-income workers, has become a sticking point among lawmakers.

Also, some Illinois lawmakers have questioned continuing to provide tax breaks for Sears.

Ohio’s package is “basically about four times” what Illinois was considering putting on the table to keep Sears Holdings Corp. from leaving, said Brooke Anderson, Quinn’s press secretary. She told The Columbus Dispatch that Sears executives mentioned the $400 million figure during a recent Illinois House committee hearing.

Sears has not confirmed anything about incentive offers and is not commenting on them, said Kimberly Freely, a spokeswoman for the company. Sears wants to have the question of its headquarters settled by the end of December, she said.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich would not talk specifics about the state’s offer on Wednesday but instead joked that “we are somewhere between $0 and $400 million.”

“We put the best package together we could. Do we have a shot? Yes, but I want to maintain my position that you don’t know,” Kasich told the Dispatch. “What I’m pleased about is, we’re pitching. We’re in the ball game.”

A person familiar with the negotiations said in early October that the parent of the Sears and Kmart chains was looking at Columbus, Ohio, and Austin, Texas, as possible new locations, if the company decides not to stay in the Chicago area. Sears has 6,200 employees at its headquarters.

Illinois officials have been pushing a $250 million package of tax breaks for Sears and several other major businesses threatening to leave the state. The measure was dealt a setback Tuesday when it was rejected by the Illinois House, but legislative leaders said they hoped a deal could be reached in the coming days or weeks.

The tax package would renew a $15 million income tax credit and a break on local property taxes for Sears.

Sears’ headquarters lies in Carpentersville-based School District 300, which has been pushing for weeks for a compromise on the incentive package. Extending the original tax break incentive package with Sears, as some had proposed, would cost District 300 $14 million a year, according to the district.

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