State senator from Arlington Heights files Bears tax break bill, but she wants TIF reform, too
Legislation that would give the Chicago Bears a massive property tax break to redevelop Arlington Park has a surprise sponsor: Democratic state Sen. Ann Gillespie of Arlington Heights, who said she's open to the concept if it comes with her long-sought reforms to tax-increment financing.
Gillespie said Tuesday it's possible that two bills she introduced this week -- one establishing a so-called Payments in Lieu of Taxes financing mechanism, and the other amending the long-standing TIF law -- be combined, or at least part of a larger negotiation in Springfield.
"The more I thought about PILOT and the fact that I'm running the TIF bill again, the more I thought we need to have a broader conversation around these tools and how they impact local taxing bodies and how they impact the taxpayer and how they affect small businesses," said Gillespie, whose 27th District includes the 326-acre shuttered racetrack that could be home to a new Bears stadium. "So I thought sponsoring both of them together would enable that wider discussion to take place."
Gillespie admits her primary concern with the PILOT concept is the part that would most certainly help the Bears -- what she called a "forbearance" of tax revenue. Under the legislation, developers of "mega projects" -- those worth at least $500 million -- would be allowed to make negotiated payments to local taxing bodies like schools and municipalities, while also getting an assessment freeze of up to 40 years.
Gillespie said what she likes about the program is how it's used in some states, where municipalities ask nonprofits like hospitals, universities and cultural institutions to make payments to supplement local revenue and pay for services.
A draft of the legislation was released late last month by a coalition of supporters including the Bears, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Road & Transportation Builders Association and the Northwest Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
That draft is what Gillespie formally introduced Monday, and she said she's fine with it being the "starting point" for discussions.
"But I also think the conversation needs to go beyond the Bears. This bill as drafted isn't designed exclusively for the Bears, nor should it be," she said. "I'm not looking at this bill as a Bears bill, but rather as an economic development tool that is in the same general categories as a TIF. And that's why I thought it would be good to discuss them as a group."
Gillespie's latest proposal to reform the controversial TIF process -- in which property taxes above a certain level are diverted from schools and other taxing bodies into development projects -- calls for the timeline of such financing to expire after 20 years instead of 23, while tightening the definition of "blighted" under the eligibility criteria.
Gillespie got rid of a provision that would have required all local taxing bodies to sign off on the creation of a TIF -- admitting she received "so much pushback" from municipalities she represents -- but inserted new language that would allow school districts to opt out and get their full incremental tax revenues. That's the case in other states like Texas, she said.
It's unclear if PILOT would be more palatable to local school districts in and around Arlington Park than a TIF. Even though the Bears' payments to local governments would be negotiated, it's the village of Arlington Heights that would be doing the negotiating.
The Palatine Township Elementary District 15 school board -- whose superintendent already expressed her opposition to a Bears TIF last fall -- could vote Wednesday night to retain a lobbyist to advocate on the district's behalf in Springfield.
District 15 and Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 could be part of a larger effort led by Northwest Suburban High School District 214, whose board will take a vote of its own to hire a lobbyist Thursday.
Gillespie said she hasn't talked to local schools officials since filing the legislation. But from her earlier conversations, she said they had concerns with PILOT as they do for TIFs because it would freeze property taxes for a sizable portion of their districts for an extended period of time.
"I'm all for economic development tools that make sense," Gillespie said. "But they've got to make sense for the taxpayer as well as the taxing authorities."