Three school districts select lobbyist to fight Bears legislation
All three school districts whose boundaries include the Chicago Bears' 326-acre Arlington Park property are now all on board in hiring a joint lobbyist to oppose, or at least amend, legislation that would give the franchise a massive tax break there.
Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211's school board joined counterparts in Northwest Suburban High School District 214 and Palatine Township Elementary District 15 in hiring Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies to represent their interests in Springfield.
The districts will split the $9,000-per-month cost over the course of the next year, though officials believe the engagement will last only four or five months during the current General Assembly session. The districts can cancel at any time with 30 days written notice.
"It is a powerful voice when the two largest high school districts in the state and their common elementary school district are all asking for the same support and changes in legislation that is currently being considered in direct connection to the Bears' development project," District 211 Superintendent Lisa Small said Tuesday evening, when the school board authorized her to sign on to te contract the other districts inked with Cozen O'Connor last week.
Last Thursday, District 211's board delayed joining the two neighboring districts' effort until a specific lobbyist was named.
The proposed Payments in Lieu of Taxes legislation would allow developers of "mega projects" -- those worth at least $500 million -- to make payments to local taxing bodies like schools while also getting an assessment freeze of up to 40 years. Under the proposal, the Bears' payments would be negotiated, but it's the village of Arlington Heights -- not the school districts -- that would be doing the bargaining.
The original bill was filed in the Senate Feb. 6 by Democratic state Sen. Ann Gillespie of Arlington Heights, and on Wednesday, state Sen. Meg Loughran Cappel of Shorewood was added as a co-sponsor. Democratic state Rep. Mark Walker of Arlington Heights filed a companion bill in the House last Friday.
Gillespie, an admitted skeptic of her own bill, has said she filed it so that it could be part of a larger conversation about her long-sought reforms to tax-increment financing. Both financing mechanisms would freeze or control the amount of taxes that school districts would collect, even as the value of the Bears' new property increases.
District 211 board member Mark Cramer -- initially opposed to hiring a lobbyist last week -- eventually voted for the deal. But he still had a lot of questions for Small, such as why District 211 is paying the same amount even though it doesn't have as much "skin in the game" as the other districts.
District 211's portion of the site is where the Bears have proposed a stadium that would be privately financed, Cramer noted.
"The skin in the game as you referenced is yet to be determined," Small responded, "because we can't presume that the stadium is only in our area, and we cannot presume that the stadium is not a part of the mega project or the TIF legislation."