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Miller: Quinn’s ‘hostage taking’ is wearing thin

Updated: November 8, 2013 6:25AM



Gov. Pat Quinn refused to say for several days whether he’d support a $1.2 million a year tax break for Archer Daniels Midland to move 100 jobs out of Decatur and open up a world headquarters and new tech center in Chicago. But last week he made it clear that without pension reform, the ADM proposal would be a nonstarter and he would veto it.

“He won’t even consider the ADM bill much less get on board when pension reform has not been done,” said a Quinn spokesperson told me.

“The best way to help jobs in Illinois is to do pension reform,” Quinn himself told the Associated Press. “To distract legislators in any way from this issue of a lifetime is just plain wrong.”

Quinn didn’t say, probably because he wasn’t asked, whether he thought a vote on gay marriage during the upcoming fall veto session would also “distract legislators.” But a spokesperson later explained that pension reform was vital to the state’s economic interests, and gay marriage, while important, was not.

And so the governor has seized yet another political hostage in his quest to ease Illinois’ enormous budget problems by reducing pension benefits for public employees and retirees.

Gaming expansion, including a new Chicago casino that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is practically slobbering over, was put on hold last spring because the governor threatened to veto it until pension reform was approved.

Then came his veto of state legislative salaries, which was recently struck down as unconstitutional by a Cook County judge. Quinn said he vetoed the salaries out of the state budget to prod legislators into passing a pension reform bill. It didn’t work. If coming up with a pension reform plan was that easy, it would’ve been accomplished long ago. Quinn is currently attempting to appeal the judge’s ruling directly to the Illinois Supreme Court.

And now comes ADM, one of the oldest companies in Illinois and one of the largest companies in the nation.

Quinn suggested to reporters last week that the company ought to help lobby for pension reform if it wanted its tax break.

Politically speaking, these are all no-brainers. Polls have shown that Illinoisans aren’t in love with the idea of more casinos. So, holding up gaming expansion has few political risks.

The General Assembly’s job approval rating is below Quinn’s, and that’s saying something because Quinn is one of the least liked governors in America. Vetoing legislators’ paychecks could rank right up there with the most popular thing Quinn has ever done, whether its constitutional or not.

And Republicans and Democrats alike have long had a strong distaste for “corporate welfare.” It just rubs people the wrong way to provide tax breaks to gigantic, profitable corporations while Illinois government has trouble paying its own bills.

The ADM tax break proposal hasn’t proved to be all that popular so far in the General Assembly, either. A company officer admitted to a House committee last week that it often pays less than $1.2 million a year in corporate income taxes, even though it made $1.2 billion in profits last year and $2 billion the year before. That was a startling admission, and didn’t please the committee’s liberal Democrats.

The subject was broached when some conservatives on the committee said they’d rather lower the corporate income tax rate than give out a special deal for one company. But lowering the tax rate — even eliminating it entirely — wouldn’t do the company any good. It wants that tax break.

However, ADM has hired some influential Statehouse lobbyists close to House Speaker Michael Madigan, Emanuel appears fully on board, and word is that an omnibus corporate tax break bill is being prepared. Despite the public resistance by legislators, the national embarrassment of losing ADM’s world headquarters to another state is probably enough to assume that this will eventually get done.

The political hostage phenomenon should be familiar if you watched the shutdown of the federal government over Republican opposition to Obamacare. The difference with Quinn is that the federal shutdown proved to be wildly unpopular with the American public, while the “hostages” Quinn is taking are prized mainly by people within the Illinois Statehouse, not by the public at large.

But, even if you don’t care, I’m here to tell you that this schtick of Quinn’s is really getting old. It’s juvenile when they do it in Washington, DC, and it’s juvenile when our own governor does it.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.



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