Balancing Illinois' budget should start with rescinding tax breaks that have not created promised jobs

  • Robert G. Engel

    Robert G. Engel

 
By Robert B. Engel
Guest columnist
Posted11/9/2020 1:00 AM

As Illinois continues to confront an economic challenge without modern precedent, lawmakers have the near-impossible task of balancing the budget. They should start by revisiting lucrative tax breaks tied to job creation that have potentially failed to live up to their promise.

Deals that have, in fact, fallen short should be immediately rescinded, providing much-needed revenue for the state and putting Illinois back on the path to economic recovery.

 

With both a significant decline in revenues and a rapid rise in unemployment, Illinois' budget shortfalls are expected to reach $2.7 billion by year end as states nationwide grapple with lasting damage that experts estimate could top $555 billion. With the clock ticking on how the state will balance its budgets in the years to come, lawmakers must urgently explore realistic and prudent opportunities for ensuring financial solvency by any means.

Revisiting the deals Illinois made with Amazon in recent years would be a fitting place to start. Illinois is just one of the dozens of states and municipalities that have met Amazon's demands to build new facilities, offering millions of dollars in lucrative tax breaks on the promise of job creation and driving economic growth.

In fact, a new report revealed that Amazon has been offered subsidies totaling at least $741 million to build warehouses in Joliet, Monee and Aurora

As Illinois begins to rebuild, the state needs proven job creators that can accelerate economic growth and create employment opportunities for all Illinoisans.

Unfortunately, Amazon has consistently failed to live up to its attractive promises. Despite the fanfare that typically accompanies these deals, experts have found that Amazon fulfillment centers consistently fail to create net job growth and will eventually lead to job losses in other industries that have long been part of the community.

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An Amazon distributor in Rockford laid off over 1,000 workers -- a clear indication that Amazon facilities do not necessarily lead to job growth.

At the same time, Amazon has proven in recent months to be willing to agree to construction plans without being offered an array of generous financial incentives. For instance, the company just announced plans for a nearly 4 million square foot distribution center at the site of the Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit -- all without any subsidies or tax breaks for the project. This should serve as a clear indication to lawmakers that these incentives from states have provided unnecessary benefits for the company at a time when every penny counts.

And while state governments continue to suffer, Amazon has doubled its profits during the most damaging months of the pandemic, and appears poised to emerge stronger than ever. With so many local businesses facing a daunting road to recovery, lawmakers need to be focusing on getting more into the hands of business owners in our communities, rather than one of America's richest corporations.

Simply put, this is a company that does not need any more help.

Given the current economic challenges faced by Illinois and the questions surrounding the benefits that come with Amazon's expansion in local communities, continuing down the road with subsidies and tax breaks will only make matters worse for all of those in Illinois.

As the state considers ways to balance its budget, there should be serious consideration given to re-examining the subsidies that Illinois has offered Amazon and immediately begin renegotiating the terms of any past agreements with the company.

• Robert B. Engel is the chief spokesperson for the Free & Fair Markets Initiative, a nonprofit watchdog group committed to promoting a fair, modern marketplace that works for all Americans.

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