Illinois sends bill to Quinn to make corporate tax break deals public

The Illinois state legislature has sent a bill to Governor Pat Quinn that would make the details of corporate tax breaks available to the public as soon as they are completed. Supporters of the bill say that it will add much needed transparency, but a key provision of the bill was removed in order to push the bill through the General Assembly.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, an outspoken critic of corporate tax breaks. Under the terms of the bill, the state would be required to immediately release the amount and terms of any tax breaks issued under the Economic Development for a Growing Economy, or EDGE, program.

The program has been responsible for several recent tax breaks with big corporations that are headquartered in Illinois like the one cut with CME Group Inc. the firm responsible for much of futures trading activity in financial services – the CME Group is based in Chicago and the state has a vested interest in keeping it there. The tax deal which included CME Group Inc. and CBOE – another futures firm amounted to $30 million.

The original bill also included a requirement that a committee of experts would review any new deals before they went through, but the provision was cut in order to get the measure through the Assembly.

Governor Quinn has not said whether he will sign the bill, although press accounts note that objections to the measure started even before it made it to a floor vote. The Governor has been relying on tax deals to keep businesses in the state and preserve jobs during the economic downturn. Franks says Quinn does not want to increase transparency around these deals, he plans to re-introduce the committee provision next year.

If Quinn opts not to sign the bill, it would be a continuation of moves by the administration to roll back government transparency. As CivSource reported last year, the state is now less responsive to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. That law increases wait times and potential fees for individuals or organizations that frequently file FOIA requests.

Under the terms of the law, individuals and organizations that file multiple FOIA requests per month will now be known as, “recurrent requesters.” Once an individual or organization receives this label, government agencies have 21 days to respond to the request and an as yet undefined, “reasonable period” to provide the information. Agencies will also be allowed to charge for the administrative costs associated with providing the information.

The law applies across state government including programs like the EDGE tax incentive program targeted through Franks bill, meaning that if the new bill is vetoed the details of these corporate tax deals could be kept secret. Transparency watchdog groups have already criticized the opaque nature of the program and the length of time it takes for details of agreements to emerge.