Sears HQ may leave Illinois

May 9, 2011 (HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill.)

Tax breaks that helped lure the company to suburban Hoffman Estates expire next year and Sears says it will consider all its options.

The retailing giant founded by Richard Sears has been headquartered in or near Chicago for the past 124 years, but other states -- including Tennessee, Texas, New Jersey and North Carolina -- are pitching the company to move.

Gov. Pat Quinn's office has already begun negotiations to keep Sears in Illinois.

"I've talked to the Chief Executive of Sears on other issues. They had some representatives in my office a month or two ago," Quinn said, talking publicly for the first time about the possibility that Sears could leave Illinois.

The company reportedly would have a direct or indirect impact on as many as 15,000 jobs if the company moved. Quinn indicated he's working to renew 23-year-old tax breaks for Sears.

"We have, according to our law, incentive opportunities for businesses as long as they do something for the people," Quinn said.

Last week, the governor issued the Libertyville-based Motorola Mobility $100 million in tax credits over the next 10 years. In return, the company agreed to remain in Illinois with its 3,000 workers. Other manufacturers, including Ford, have agreed to add Illinois jobs in exchange for tax breaks.

Meanwhile, Quinn threatened to veto House Bill 14 that Commonwealth Edison says will increase its payroll. The utility promises to modernize its grid system if the General Assembly allows ComEd to increase consumer electric rates to pay for it.

"We can't give utilities a blank check. We can't have a formula for automatic rate increases," said David Kolata with the Citizens Utility Board.

"Right now, there are tens of thousands of low income utility customers who are being disconnected by ComEd because they can't keep up with their bills," said Lillian Drummond with the South Austin Coalition.

Quinn says ComEd will never get the terms listed in the version of the bill now pending in the state House of Representatives.

"I would certainly veto the current version of House Bill 14. Hopefully, we can take it and make it a much better bill for the people," Quinn said.

Later Monday afternoon, ComEd issued a statement referring to the company as a "lead proponent" of House Bill 14. It said the measure would lead not only to jobs and economic development but also improved customer service. But the governor says it won't happen on his watch, at least not the current version of the bill.

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