Law360 - March 16, 2017 | original article

By Hannah Meisel

Three possible plans for keeping businesses in Illinois with tax credits emerged Thursday in the state's General Assembly, as an earlier program that doled out more than 800 such credits is set to expire by the end of April.

Illinois' current EDGE tax credit — short for Economic Development for a Growing Economy — is set to expire next month after a last-minute extension at the beginning of the year gave it a few more months to live. EDGE was originally adopted in 1999, and the state has approved more than 800 tax credits through 2015, according to the state's Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

EDGE has been used in a few high-profile cases in recent years, including a successful bid to keep soy giant Archer Daniels-Midland's global headquarters in Illinois and a failed try at keeping the former OfficeMax headquarters in the state after it was acquired by Florida-based Office Depot.

But EDGE has also drawn criticism, as lawmakers from both parties have alleged the program enables businesses to threaten to leave the state if they aren't offered the tax credits they want. Though the administration of Gov. Bruce Rauner has altered the EDGE program to reward businesses for creating new jobs instead of giving tax incentives for keeping existing jobs, a bipartisan consensus has emerged that the program might need a replacement.

DCEO director Sean McCarthy threw his agency's weight behind a proposal known as the THRIVE — Transforming, Helping and Reviving Illinois’ Versatile Economy — Job Creation Tax Credit Act.

"Better for Illinois taxpayers, communities and small businesses," McCarthy testified Thursday.

THRIVE is sponsored by Sen. Pamela Althoff, R-McHenry, and Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, a bipartisan team that may help sell the new program to a deeply divided legislature in the midst of a 21-month budget impasse in Illinois. The plan would provide the state with a way to take back funds it may have given to a company that didn’t follow through on its promise to create jobs, along with capping the level of incentives at half of the profit from a new project. With EDGE, the caps are set at 100 percent of profit.

But Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, asked McCarthy why a program for business tax incentives are even necessary, suggesting the state abolish the corporate tax altogether.

“Why should we pick winners and losers in Illinois?" McSweeney asked. "Why not keep tax rates relatively low, look at real tax reform that could result in lower rates? Why actually get into the situation where the government is picking winners and losers? I've never understood why we're sitting here on a Thursday morning talking about legislation that will put the decision-making process into the hands of the government deciding who's going to win and lose?"

A competing plan is sponsored by Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Chicago, who said in committee Thursday that he feels he's under "enormous pressure to get something done" on tax credits.

Zalewski's plan is supported by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, and would cap credits at $50 million per year year statewide and limit them to five years for any given project, down from the current 10 years provided for within EDGE.

Instead of employers negotiating a cut in their income tax liability, businesses would receive a cut worth 10 percent of wages of newly hired or retained jobs. Additionally, the tax credit would be even higher if the jobs were located in high-poverty, high-unemployment communities. The credit would be made permanent, rather than having to be renewed every five years.

The third option is simply extending EDGE again, possibly with some tweaks.

Though high-ranking Democrat Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, was the one who pushed for the extension of EDGE in the beginning of the year, she said Thursday that a replacement program should be different going forward.

“If we are going to create special incentives, we want to make sure that there was a reason to do it, not just glad-handing,” she said.

Category: In The News

Capitol buildingNBC 5 Chicago - February 28, 2017 | original article

By Tom Schuba

The Illinois Senate approved portions of its bipartisan “grand bargain” Tuesday, passing a spending bill that would fund the state's beleaguered social service agencies and public colleges through June.

Throughout much of the nearly two-year budget stalemate, Illinois' social service agencies and public colleges and universities have suffered without state funding. The Senate plan, which still requires approval from the Illinois House and Gov. Bruce Rauner, would also fund Monetary Award Program grants for low-income students in the state.

“Today, the Illinois Senate did what the governor and House leaders have failed to do, put the people of Illinois ahead of political games,” state Sen. Melinda Bush said in a statement. “Senators from both parties came together in an effort to end the budget impasse and finally move Illinois forward."

The supplemental funding is part of the Senate’s broader budget plan, which is comprised of a series of interdependent bills. The Senate passed some of those measures Tuesday, including bills to fund Chicago teacher pensions and expand gaming revenues by authorizing six new casinos throughout the state.

However, Senate President John Cullerton’s pension reform bill failed Tuesday for the second time. Cullerton placed the measure on postponed consideration so it can be voted on later, which is important because all the bills in the package need to pass for any to become law.

In addition, the Senate passed bills Tuesday that would reform the state’s procurement process and consolidate local governments. Those measures also await approval from the House and the governor.

During his annual budget address earlier this month, Rauner lauded the Senate plan, which includes a Democrat-favored income tax increase alongside elements of his turnaround agenda.

The Republican said he's open to raising the income tax and expanding the state's sales tax to get the Senate deal done, but claimed it's "not fair" to include a permanent income tax increase with only a temporary property tax freeze. Instead, he encouraged members of the General Assembly to pass a permanent property tax freeze, like the one passed in the House last month.

Despite his newfound flexibility, Rauner noted that he wouldn't support new taxes on food, medicine or retirement income.

The Senate will reconvene in Springfield Wednesday.

Category: In The News

shirtsColumbia Chronicle - February 20, 2017 | original article

By Carolyn Bowen

Women paying more for the same goods and services than men solely because of gender is a form of discrimination, said State Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake.

Bush said she never questioned the validity of the practice until recently. But now that she has, she is trying to put an end to it.

“Women are making 70 cents on the dollar and African-Americans and Latinos are making substantially less than that,” Bush told The Chronicle. “We certainly shouldn’t be paying more for the services we are using.”

In a Feb. 8 press release, Bush announced she is expanding legislation, called Pink Inc., to reduce economic barriers for Illinois women. Bush said the bill will make it illegal in Illinois for hair salons, barber shops, dry cleaners and tailors with a unisex clientele, to charge women more than men for similar services.

“This is a fairness issue, and it is really just time that it is addressed,” she said.

Pink Inc. is an extension of previous legislation Bush sponsored to end the “pink tax” on feminine hygiene products—specifically tampons, sanitary napkins and menstrual cups—which went into effect in Illinois Jan. 1.

Bush is working with representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois to establish the details of the bill.

Khadine Bennett, the ACLU’s  Illinois director of Advocacy and Intergovernmental Affairs, said discrimination for public accommodations is already illegal under the Human Rights Act, but many customers do not know businesses are breaking the law. Women are often paying $2–$3 more than men at dry cleaning businesses for almost identical pieces of clothing, and more for the same short haircuts, Bennett added.

“[Pink Inc]  will hopefully make stores and service providers think twice as to whether they really need to charge that extra amount, or are they just doing it because they have in the past,” she said.

According to Bennett, Pink Inc. would require businesses to post signs providing the prices of services, as well as a notice stating that discrimination based on gender is illegal under the Human Rights Act. The bill may also create a hotline for customers to report gender-based discrimination complaints to the Department of Human Rights, which would follow with repercussions for the accused business.

For businesses including salons that frequently provide extra services to women, Bennett said charging more for those services is legitimate.

Travis Smith, lead instructor at Sassoon Academy, a hair design school, said in the six years he has worked there, the salon’s standard has always been to charge men and women equally for haircuts.

He said the bill could potentially affect smaller businesses including those in his industry that still abide by stereotypical gender constructs when it comes to haircuts.

“Some say men’s hair take less time because they would typically do men’s hair shorter, but [today] that’s very wrong,” Smith said.

Bush said this bill will always face opponents but hopes to get a signature from the governor by the end of the year.

According to Jesse Hathaway—research fellow at the Heartland Institute Center on Taxes and the Economy—Bush’s proposed legislation should not be a top priority for state legislators.

“Instead of worrying about whether the local barber is charging the same amount as the local Great Clips, Sen. Bush needs to be focusing on what she can do as a lawmaker to help the state government reduce its spending, reduce its taxes and encourage businesses to relocate into Illinois,” Hathaway said.

While Hathaway said senators should focus on building an economy that brings people back to the state, Bush said she is putting Illinois women at the forefront of her priorities.

“Women are coming together and saying, ‘We want to be recognized, treated equally and fairly, and we are not going to take this anymore,’” Bush said. 

Category: In The News

Listen to Senator Bush's interview on WBEZ's Morning Shift to find out what she thought of Governor Rauner's State of the State address.

 

Category: In The News

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