Associated Press photo<br />Rep. David Harris, R-Mount Prospect, argues legislation while on the House floor during session at the Illinois State Capitol Monday in Springfield.
Associated Press photo
Rep. David Harris, R-Mount Prospect, argues legislation while on the House floor during session at the Illinois State Capitol Monday in Springfield.
SPRINGFIELD — The fate of big tax breaks for Sears Holdings Corp. now rests in the hands of the Illinois Senate, which has approved a similar plan before, and Gov. Pat Quinn, who has suggested he’d sign the proposal if left intact.
Just weeks after rejecting a similar proposal, the Illinois House Monday sent the Senate a package of tax breaks that tries to both keep Sears in Hoffman Estates and give tax relief to all state residents, especially the working poor.
With the pressure of an end-of-year deadline looming, the Senate is scheduled to meet Tuesday.
The Senate has already approved one proposal with similar ideas, meaning the House may have been the bigger hurdle Sears needed to clear. But Senate approval isn’t certain, because the compromise was split into two pieces of legislation, potentially posing its own political difficulties.
Still, after weeks of false starts over tax relief for Sears, momentum appears to be more significant than ever.
The House voted 81-28 to approve the business breaks and 67-49 to OK an increase in credits for the working poor, sending them both to the Senate.
The two are politically connected, and if one fails, the deal to do the other would be all but off.
“Before veto session, we brought the leaders to the table with the goal of delivering help for both hardworking families and employers,” Quinn said in a statement. “This package meets those standards and is a win for the people of Illinois.”
Sears officials have said they plan to decide by the end of the year whether to relocate elsewhere, perhaps Ohio. And top executives have said they’ll strongly recommend to the company’s board that Sears stay in Illinois if the proposed deal is approved.
“This is a major step in the process,” Sears spokesman Chris Brathwaite said Monday. “We appreciate the House’s efforts and are hopeful that when the Senate returns tomorrow, it will follow suit.”
That deadline and offers from competitors were at least partly behind lawmakers’ hasty return to Springfield Monday to try to move the tax breaks along.
“This is the competitive nature of the world we live in,” said Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat.
Like the House did Monday, the Senate will debate whether giving the tax breaks with its estimated cost of $340 million is worth doing while the state struggles to pay its overdue bills.
“That, members of the House, is the key question,” state Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, said on the House floor. “What can we afford?”
The legislation includes tax breaks for Sears and the CME Group, plus several other wider-ranging credits that businesses across the state can use. Republicans fought for the more general tax help for businesses, wanting to grant help to more than just a handful of big companies.
And some Democrats including Gov. Pat Quinn insisted the overall package include relief for families, too.
“That money is going to be spent in the economy,” David Vaught of Naperville, Quinn’s budget director, told lawmakers.
But some lawmakers argued a $50 increase in the $2,000 standard income tax deduction that’s in the proposal doesn’t give much help at all.
“If we’re going to do something, we need to do something more meaningful for those in the middle class,” said state Rep. Mike Fortner, a West Chicago Republican.
The debate on the House floor was interrupted at one point when a protest group draped a white banner down from the House gallery urging lawmakers to stop giving in to “corporate extortion.” When security officers tried to pull the banner up, it caught on a fancy wall sconce.
Earlier in the day, state Rep. Sandy Cole, a Grayslake Republican, questioned at a committee hearing how the relief for CME Group was calculated, saying it could have been less generous and should be revisited in the future.
“You’re getting quite a good deal, in my opinion,” Cole told a CME executive at Monday’s hearing.
The Sears provisions include an extension of the company’s property tax break with Hoffman Estates for up to 15 years, as well as a 15-year, $150 million income tax credit.
If the retail giant leaves town in the coming years, it would have to pay back the incentives, and it’s required to keep at least 4,250 jobs on site in the meantime.