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Miller: Too late for Madigan to change his image

Updated: January 19, 2014 11:44AM



House Speaker Michael Madigan’s spokesman said last week that his boss’ statement opposing further corporate “handouts” basically “speaks for itself.” But does it?

Madigan invoked the populist gods last week as he called for an end to the “case-by-case system of introducing and debating legislation whenever a corporation is looking for free money from Illinois taxpayers.” Companies requesting the tax breaks, Madigan said, “pay little to no corporate income tax to the state, contributing little or nothing to help fund the very services from which they benefit significantly.”

It would be much easier to believe Madigan, D-Chicago, had he not last month pushed a bill over to the Illinois Senate that would give Univar a tax break to help the West Coast corporation move its headquarters to Illinois. Not coincidentally, Univar has a facility next door to Madigan’s House district.

The Senate refused to pass the standalone Univar bill, opting instead to include the Univar break in a wider package benefiting OfficeMax and ADM. That bill cruised through the Senate, but Madigan didn’t allow it to be called in the House after the pension reform bill was approved.

So, Madigan’s infamous transactional nature and the traditional tension between the two chambers both appear to be playing into this.

Contrast Madigan’s statement about corporate “handouts” with Senate President John Cullerton’s staunch defense of his chamber’s passage of the tax breaks.

“We’re not giving any money to corporations. We’re bringing jobs to Illinois,” Cullerton, D-Chicago, said. “These specific bills that we passed, they are new jobs that are being added. So we’re not taking any money away from anybody or giving money to corporations, we’re adding jobs that aren’t here now.”

But even Cullerton whittled down the list of companies seeking government assistance. Zurich North America wanted a tax break to help it with its already announced headquarters move from one part of Schaumburg to another, but it was left out of the final deal. Suburban video game developer High Voltage Software has asked for assistance dealing with overseas competition, but it also was removed from the Senate’s package.

Several other corporate execs also have quietly reached out to inquire about tax incentives, insiders say, so the relative trickle could soon become a flood. Madigan appears to have wanted to stop this trend before it got out of hand.

There’s also continuing tension between Madigan and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who refused to publicly endorse a specific ADM tax break bill. Emanuel wants Decatur-based ADM’s new “world headquarters” to be in Chicago, but Hizzoner never publicly requested the subsidy the company wants, and Madigan didn’t want his members taking heat for “corporate welfare” while Chicago’s mayor benefited without cost.

This move also has a macro side. Madigan has never really cared much about the publicity he gets, but after he was publicly singled out by gay marriage proponents as the main impediment to the bill’s passage, he helped push the legislation over the top and then took credit in an unusual post-vote news conference with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago.

Madigan also gave himself full credit for passage of the controversial pension reform bill, claiming that it couldn’t have passed without his leadership. His statement blatantly ignored Cullerton’s massive policy shift on pension reform, which was what really led to the bill’s success.

More important, though, the Speaker’s statement signaled yet again that he wanted praise for his accomplishments — something he’s never asked for in the past. And now this move on corporate tax breaks designed to curry favor with voters.

After years of not caring, why does Madigan care now? One obvious reason is the upcoming gubernatorial election.

“Dealing with Madigan” has become the most important issue in the Republican primary, with Bruce Rauner regularly denouncing Madigan and all four GOP candidates claiming they’re the right guy to bring the most powerful Democrat in Illinois history to heel.

It’s highly doubtful that Madigan’s PR ploy will work. The media and the Republican establishment have been blasting Madigan for more than 30 years. A sustained attack like that simply cannot be effectively countered in a few months via media coverage alone.

Madigan, at age 71 with almost 43 years in the House and close to 29 years as speaker, also is undoubtedly taking stock of his legacy and apparently has decided that he had better get his, um, house in order.

This state has suffered badly under his legislative leadership. And while he shouldn’t get all the blame, he has to know that he will.

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



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