As Amazon passes on Illinois, business community asks why

By Greg Bishop, Illinois News Network | Nov 14, 2018

Todd Maisch, Illinois Chamber of Commerce  

Despite offering over $1 billion in tax incentives and other perks to lure online retail giant Amazon, Illinois won’t get the company's $5 billion investment or thousands of high-paying jobs.

Amazon announced Tuesday that it plans to split its new headquarters between New York and Northern Virginia. Virginia will grant $550 million in tax incentives over more than a decade if Amazon creates 25,000 jobs with average pay above $150,000. New York offered incentives tied to job creation worth at least $1.5 billion. Other states had offered even larger incentive packages, including one worth about $7 billion from New Jersey and Newark.

In its bid to get Amazon's next headquarters, Illinois developed a joint higher education operation called the Discovery Partners Institute for half a billion dollars. Illinois' tax incentives could have eclipsed $1 billion.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, said with Amazon heading to the East Coast, the state and Chicago should look at providing such tax incentives to Illinois businesses.

“How can we invest those same kinds of resources in creating sustainable jobs for the people of the city of Chicago, jobs that pay decent wages and jobs that will help grow our communities.”

Guzzardi, D-Chicago, dismissed suggestions that Illinois lost the Amazon bid because of over-regulation.

“The moral of the story shouldn’t be Illinois needs to deregulate to win the companies like Amazon because New York has a very similar scheme that’s more favorable to workers and yet Amazon chose there,” Guzzardi said.

The business community has for years been pushing for reducing the cost of workers’ compensation in Illinois, along with other measures to make Illinois more business-friendly, including working to lower the second-highest property taxes in the country. Business organizations also have said the state’s debt repels investment.

Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Maisch said Amazon officials told him Tuesday morning that they weren’t going with Illinois. He said Amazon already has a footprint in Illinois with more than 10,000 jobs. He said more can be done to attract business investment.

“The fiscal situation just has to get fixed, but in a way that’s responsible for job growth,” Maisch said. “Simply jacking up taxes and continuing to spend how we spend is not the answer.

"It goes to the old notion that if you’re in a hole, stop digging. We are continuing to dig,” Maisch said. “And if the answer from the [incoming] Pritzker administration is simply throw more revenue in our existing spending structure, that’s simply not going to work.”

Illinois has at least $130 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and more than $7 billion in unpaid bills.

Maisch said he asked Amazon officials to share their reasons for picking the East Coast in an effort to give policymakers in Illinois an idea of what reforms would help the state be more attractive in the future.

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