Illinois House tests CME Group, Sears bluff

Bill to give companies tax relief fails by wide margin

November 30, 2011

Kristen McQueary

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Freshman Illinois state Rep. Thaddeus Jones (D-Calumet City) promised his Senate colleague he would vote for her bill providing tax relief for Chicago-based CME Group and Sears Holdings Corp.

So when 99 red lights lined up on the voting boards in the House Tuesday night torpedoing the bill, the light next to Jones' name glowed a steady green, along with only seven others. The bill’s failure was so pronounced, an audible gasp swept through the chamber as the tally flashed on the boards.  

“Your word is your bond, and I told Sen. Toi Hutchinson I would support her bill, come hell or high water,” Jones said.

“And it was hell,” joked state Rep. Rich Brauer, a Republican from downstate Petersburg, as the two stood in a hallway shortly after the vote. Brauer voted against the bill, which Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) sponsored in the Senate.

The bill would have allowed CME Group, which operates two futures exchanges, and Sears to take advantage of tax relief worth more than $200 million. The bill also included an expansion of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides tax relief to working poor families, and included new tax credits aimed at research and development.

The bill was written this fall after lawmakers approved a January increase in the Illinois corporate income tax that CME Group CEO Terrence Duffy said unfairly taxed his company by hitting transactions that didn't derive from Illinois. Sears, meanwhile, wanted to extend a tax break at its Hoffman Estates headquarters, at least until the company could recapture about $125 million it invested in infrastructure.

Without relief, both companies threatened to move out of Illinois.

The bill passed the state Senate but landed in a more skeptical House, even though legislative leaders and Gov. Pat Quinn spent months negotiating its terms. They included a sprinkle of tax relief for working families in an effort to avoid any appearance of special treatment for deep-pocketed corporations.

But even that wasn’t enough to swing support among an unpredictably skittish legislature. Moments after shooting down the bill, the House rejected a simple resolution supporting Occupy Wall Street protesters, even though the “occupy” movement helped kill the CME/Sears legislation. “Occupy” supporters were urged Tuesday through social media Web sites to phone legislators and urge a “no” vote on the corporate tax breaks. 

House sponsor John Bradley (D-Marion) said he would continue to work on the bill, but both the House and Senate adjourned Tuesday without a plan to revive it. Lawmakers aren’t scheduled to return to Springfield until January.