Lawmakers hope Sears closings won't affect Ill. stores

December 27, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The closings come on the heels of a massive tax break passed by Illinois lawmakers to keep the company's headquarters in the state. Just two weeks ago, Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a bill that offered Sears a $15 million tax break to keep the company in Illinois.

Some lawmakers say Sears should have been more up front about any potential plans to close stores before a vote was taken. Others blame Quinn for failing to include in the Sears tax incentive bill language about store closings and layoffs.

"My question is when were they going to tell us. Was this a decision made when we were negotiating this? Those are questions unanswered, and I feel kind of betrayed," said State Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago.

Sears made its decision following poor sales during the holidays.

Gov. Quinn, who supported the Sears tax breaks, hopes Illinois will be spared store closings. But the governor did not say whether he made a mistake by leaving language out of the agreement to keep stores open in Illinois. Quinn says the legislation was only about the corporate headquarters.

"We expect the headquarters to stay here and the jobs to be here, that is what the agreement was all about. The fact that they have to close some stores around the country, that isn't good news but it doesn't directly affect this agreement," said Quinn.

But some lawmakers say the agreement should have included language about layoffs. State Representative Jack Franks says he warned the governor weeks ago about Sears' financial problems. The Democrat voted against the tax break bill.

"It's obscene and it's wrong and the governor should have stood up to the taxpayers of Illinois and said, we will not give you any money if you are going to be firing those people who are giving you the money," said Franks.

Gov. Quinn says Illinois doesn't have a choice but to defend itself when other states offer incentives to lure businesses away.

The Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank, says raising Illinois' corporate tax rate leaves Quinn caught between a rock and hard place.

"Tax incentives like the one that just passed are a necessary piece of bad public policy," said Bruno Behrend of the Heartland Institute.

To help with the state's huge budget crisis, Quinn raised the corporate tax rate. Some lawmakers say the next time a company asks the state for a tax break, more questions need to be asked during the negotiation process. Representative Franks has introduced legislation that requires the process to be more transparent.

So far Sears has not announced whiched stores will be closing.

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