by Greg Bishop
Some lawmakers want state economic development leaders to show all their cards when trying to lure businesses to Illinois. Others say closed door negotiations to attract businesses isn’t necessarily the problem, it’s the state’s business climate.
State Rep. Andre Thapedi, D-Ashburn, said during a committee hearing this week that lawmakers are being frozen out of the inner workings of state leaders trying to attract businesses to Illinois.
“We’re not looking for that information for kicks and giggles,” Thapedi said. “We’re looking for that information so that we can do a better job going forward in bidding for these types of deals.”
“The question is are we using the same flawed strategies and the same flawed plan as we did in Foxconn and the Toyota Mazda deal on the Amazon deal,” Thapedi said. “Are we doing that?”
Illinois Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Maisch said businesses working on deals are likely not willing to be scrutinized by the entire General Assembly.
“Now accountability certainly is very, very important for taxpayers,” Maisch said. ”But the negotiations, the give and take is something that in the business world and in the investment world just has to take place in a closed room.”
Thapedi was critical of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for not handing over information about negotiations with businesses when it comes to luring job creators to Illinois.
DCEO Director Sean McCarthy said Illinois was never in any negotiations with Foxconn. McCarthy said the Taiwanese company didn’t follow traditional means of site selection where they go to a large number of areas with requests and then whittle them down to a few. Foxconn will be going to Wisconsin, where that state is offering billions of dollars in incentives.
McCarthy said Toyota Mazda did have Illinois on its Top 5, and that was a great accomplishment, but the Land of Lincoln didn’t make the Top 3.
Intersect Illinois CEO Mark Petersen told media last month one reason Toyota didn’t pick Illinois is because it’s not a right-to-work state.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives secret said closed door discussions with businesses isn’t why the state’s economy is stagnant. It’s the state’s abysmal business climate that’s repelling investment, she said.
“I want us to talk entirely about our business climate,” Ives said. “There’s nothing more important than getting jobs in Danville and Decatur and the Rock Island area and everybody else. Construction cranes in Chicago don’t mean a whole lot in the rest of the state.”
Ives said the state’s burdensome regulations and incentive deals that picks winners and losers needs to be reformed.
State Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem, said something has to be done to better the business climate. He recently had a job fair in his rural southern Illinois district and was alarmed at what he saw.
“We had 21 employers come in,” Cavaletto said. “Toyota came in from Indiana. Seven trucking companies came in from Missouri. So if my people get those jobs, we lose thousands of people. The state is dying because we’re losing people.”
Cavaletto was one of 15 Republican state representatives to vote with Democrats to increase in the state's corporate income tax in July – along with an increase in the state's income tax – although he voted against the override of Rauner's veto a few days later.
Thapedi said he will facilitate more hearings on the issue because he wants to “see Illinois win,” but he stopped short of acknowledging the state’s abysmal business climate.
Earlier in the week, state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said that businesses are more willing to go to areas prone for natural disasters than to come to Illinois and deal with the business climate.
“Maybe he’s right in full, maybe he’s right in part, maybe he’s well off, we just don’t know why we lost,” Thapedi said.
Groups like the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, the Chamber of Commerce and others have long said Illinois needs property tax relief, workers’ compensation and regulatory reforms. In all areas, Illinois is among the most burdensome of any state in the country and in the Midwest.
Originally published in Illinois News Network
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