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Reeder: Illinois’ brand of corporate welfare

Published: Friday, Oct. 4, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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 such endeavors are costing you, the taxpayer.

You see, the state of Illinois is paying companies to be here.It’s a rather unseemly affair.

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 on which all businesses can compete.

But it shouldn’t be picking which businesses are winners and which will be losers.

One of the primary ways Illinois doles out incentives is through the EDGE tax credit, which funnels the income taxes paid by employees into their employer’s accounts rather than state coffers.

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, ADM is reportedly looking to move its corporate headquarters out of downstate Decatur to a larger city.

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 which calls itself “The Supermarket to the World,” is shopping for the best corporate handout.

Last year, ADM’s revenues exceeded $80 billion.

By comparison, last year Illinois state government had total revenues of $68 billion.

So the state is looking at giving a handout to a company taking in more money than all of Illinois state government.

That’s an embarrassment.

ADM is a private corporation and can locate its top-100 executives wherever it pleases.

What Quinn – or any other state’s governor – does or doesn’t do will likely have very little influence on what ADM ultimately decides.

Instead of cutting sweetheart deals for big companies, Illinois would be better off working for 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. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org, or follow his work on Twitter @scottreeder.

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