CME, Sears future unclear after tax breaks defeated

November 30, 2011

The future for two major Illinois corporations is unclear after state lawmakers rejected a plan that would have granted the companies about $200 million in tax breaks.

Hoffman Estates-based Sears Holdings and Chicago-based CME Group, which operates financial exchanges, have both threatened to leave Illinois if they don't get some relief from a recent hike in the state's corporate tax rate. The Illinois Senate approved a $250 million proposal that included tax breaks for the companies, but they overwhelmingly shot it down Tuesday night.

"We are disappointed that the legislature was not able to reach agreement and pass a package that will help us remain an Illinois company," Sears representative Chris Brathwaite said in a statement. "It is our hope that lawmakers will achieve a compromise very soon as our timeline for making a decision about our future by the end of the year has not changed."

A spokesman for CME Group declined to comment on Tuesday's vote. But earlier this month, CME Chairman Terrence Duffy told state lawmakers that many of his company's transactions are conducted online, it would be relatively easy to relocate elsewhere.

Sears has received several offers to relocate from other states that would include moving costs, Brathwaite said. The retailer employs about 6,100 people at its suburban headquarters. CME Group has about 2,000 Illinois workers.

Some lawmakers, including Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, had been pushing for an omnibus tax bill that would give breaks to low-income families and small businesses, as well as the big corporations. But other legislators voiced concern that bowing to corporate pressure would send the message that they'd be easily steamrolled by future threats to flee the state.

Lawmakers are set to head back to Springfield in January, but they adjourned Tuesday without a plan to revive the tax break package.