Reeder: Illinois’ corporate courtship is going too far
By Scott Reeder firstname.lastname@example.org September 30, 2013 10:32PM
Updated: November 2, 2013 6:28AM
I’m getting oodles of press releases from Gov. Pat Quinn touting all the jobs he is bringing to, or “keeping” in, Illinois.
One thing politicians such as Quinn won’t tell you, unless you ask, is how much job recruitment endeavors are costing you, the taxpayer.
You see, the state of Illinois is paying companies to be here. It’s a rather unseemly situation.
If Illinois isn’t attractive enough for businesses in its own right, the state has serious problems that need to be addressed.
Don’t get me wrong — there is nothing wrong with the Land of Lincoln putting its best foot forward and showing prospective suitors the advantages it has to offer — a central location, excellent transportation and a top-notch workforce.
But paying companies to locate here? No way.
What we are talking about, folks, is the difference between courtship and paid companionship.
Taxpayers are paying for the continued corporate friendship of the likes of Sears, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Continental Tire, Motorola, Ford Motor Co., and many more.
Some of these deals happened under Quinn, others under past governors.
I don’t care if it was a Republican or Democrat who presided over these forays in cronyism — they are just plain wrong.
Government should create a level playing field in which all businesses can compete.
But it shouldn’t be determining which businesses are winners and which are losers.
One of the primary ways that the state doles out these business incentives is through its EDGE tax credit, which funnels the income tax revenue from employees into their employer’s accounts rather than the state treasury. It’s a pretty sweet deal for the companies.
“Why do big corporations do things like this? Because they can,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of the liberal Washington, D.C., think tank Good Jobs First.
“Companies like Archer Daniels Midland, Motorola or some foreign auto manufacturer are trophy companies that politicians like to point to and say they ‘brought’ to the state,” LeRoy said.
In fact, Archer Daniels Midland, or ADM, is reportedly looking to move its corporate headquarters out of Decatur to a larger city, possibly Chicago.
The Fortune 30 company is being wooed by Quinn’s administration to relocate to the Chicago area. Other states may be in play as well.
ADM, a food-processing and commodities-trading corporation that bills itself as the “Supermarket to the World,” is shopping for the best corporate handout.
Last year, ADM’s revenue exceeded $80 billion. By comparison, last year Illinois state government had total revenue of $68 billion.
So the state is looking at giving a lucrative deal to a company taking in more money than all of our state government. That’s an embarrassment.
ADM is a private corporation and can locate its top 100 or so executives wherever it pleases.
What Quinn, or any other state’s governor, does or doesn’t do will likely have little influence on what ADM ultimately decides.
Instead of cutting sweetheart deals for big companies, Illinois would be better off working to establish a better climate for all businesses, not just a select few.
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist-in-residence at the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonprofit research group that supports the free market and limited government.