Arlington Heights officials rejected a petition to ban village financial incentives for Chicago Bears or any other company, stating that the petition did not have enough valid signatures – and warning that such a move would hurt businesses and taxpayers.
The petition calls on the village to create an “Anti-Corporate Ordinance” that would prohibit any financial or other incentives to do business in the village. The petition was filed by the Americans for Prosperity Illinois, part of a libertarian group supported by the conservative Koch brothers.
Mayor Tom Hayes called the proposal a “terrible idea,” saying it would prohibit any kind of tax break, and even public parking, that could be considered a financial incentive for business. Any suggestion of cronyism among rural officials, he added, was “patent false and unfounded.”
Last year, the Bears entered into a preliminary deal to buy Arlington International Racecourse from Churchill Downs Inc. for $ 197 million. The team goes through due diligence to verify that the 326 acre site will meet all requirements prior to entering into a contract later this year or early next year.
Team officials said they would not seek taxpayers’ help to build the stadium, but would need public aid to build infrastructure for a neighboring $ 5 billion estate, including housing, offices, retail and entertainment.
The village ordinance allows the village board to consider approving a referendum on the petition if it obtains signatures of support from 1% of registered voters, or 557 people.
Americans for Prosperity Illinois signed 667 signatures on September 6, but some signatures did not match the registered signatures, did not have a signature, had incorrect or no names, or people who signed did not live in Arlington Heights, leaving only 544 valid signatures, village manager Randall Recklaus said.
Petitioners can always add more signatures. If the council still rejects the application, petitioners can obtain signatures from 12% of registered voters to put the measure on the ballot paper.
Americans for Prosperity said the referendum would be binding, but country attorney Hart Passman said it was not, saying no ordinance or state law provides for it to be binding.
Recklaus discussed how tax incentives are very effective in attracting and keeping businesses that lower the tax burden on homeowners.
Most importantly, he said the village center was successfully rebuilt thanks to TIF (Tax Increment Financing) County. Under the TIF, any city center property tax increases were channeled back into area improvements such as utilities and roads.
While the TIF was in effect from 1983 to 2006, he said, annual property tax revenues rose from $ 650,000 to $ 6.5 million. When the TIF expired after 23 years, the money was distributed to all local tax authorities.
The result was a thriving downtown with multi-story condominiums and apartments, restaurants, a theater and three public car parks. Recklaus said the incentive ban could even be interpreted as a ban on parking in public places and eliminating the use of village streets to eat outside in the city center.
Other rural programs have provided tax breaks and low-interest or forgivable loans to help companies survive the COVID pandemic or other problems.
In the Bears case, TIF could pay for new sewers and other infrastructure, such as proposed new ramps, to move traffic from Illinois Route 53 under the Northwest Highway and railroad tracks to the stadium.
While some TIFs and stadium projects elsewhere have failed, Recklaus said, any new Arlington Heights TIF will only be approved if it is shown that it will deliver more than all the village’s expenses. Banning such transactions would put the village at a competitive disadvantage and possibly reduce its tax base.
The Americans for Prosperity released a recent poll that found 68% of voters in Arlington Heights oppose the use of taxes for the Bears, compared to 22%. The poll also found 55% supported the anti-corporate welfare ordinance.
The group’s deputy state director, Brian Costin, previously released a statement saying, “Arlington Heights is proposing the largest welfare deal in Village history for a billionaire owner at the world’s richest sports entertainment company.” Not only is this special treatment unfair to residents and other business owners, but the vast majority of economists surveyed about sports stadium subsidies found it a bad deal for taxpayers.
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