Anti-tax group launches new campaign to block potential Bears subsidies in Arlington Heights

  • Americans for Prosperity Illinois has sent these flyers to Arlington Heights residents seeking support for its latest petition drive.

    Americans for Prosperity Illinois has sent these flyers to Arlington Heights residents seeking support for its latest petition drive.

  • A QR code on the Americans for Prosperity mailer redirects to a website with instructions on how to gather signatures for the group's possible advisory referendum.

    A QR code on the Americans for Prosperity mailer redirects to a website with instructions on how to gather signatures for the group's possible advisory referendum.

  • Brian Costin

    Brian Costin

  • Tom Hayes

    Tom Hayes

Posted12/23/2022 5:30 AM

Its anti-corporate welfare ordinance roundly rejected by the Arlington Heights village board, Americans for Prosperity has launched another bid to prevent public financing for a Chicago Bears redevelopment of Arlington Park. This time, it's an unconventional effort that's flooding local mailboxes with campaign-style mailers that have QR codes allowing residents to print out, sign, circulate and notarize petitions themselves.

The conservative group's goal is to put an advisory referendum on the April 4 ballot asking voters whether the village should "force taxpayers to subsidize" the Bears' proposed $5 billion redevelopment of the shuttered racetrack property.


Brian Costin, the advocacy group's deputy state director, wouldn't say how many mailings went out, or how many signatures he's gotten back at the organization's office in Rolling Meadows. The group needs 2,443 signatures -- representing at least 8% of votes cast by village residents in the last gubernatorial election -- for an advisory referendum to be placed on the ballot.

Residents say the glossy flyers started hitting their mailboxes last week. A scan of the QR code redirects to a website set up by Costin's group,, and a Nov. 22 blog post with instructions on how to gather signatures.

The deadline to file petitions at the village clerk's office for any resident-led referendum is Jan. 3.

"This is kind of different," said Costin, a one-time Schaumburg mayoral candidate and former policy adviser to former Gov. Bruce Rauner and Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti. "Illinois has very high requirements to get something on the ballot in comparison to most other states. So we're trying different tactics to get the numbers."

The effort is led formally by the Illinois Corporate Welfare Accountability Committee, which was created Nov. 18 and filed a statement of organization with the Illinois State Board of Elections Nov. 30. The committee chair is Jason Heffley, the Springfield-based state director at Americans for Prosperity. Its treasurer is Rob Jentgens, the Arlington, Virginia-based national organization's finance chief.

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Mayor Tom Hayes, who received one of Costin's flyers in the mail, criticized the mailings for "intentionally trying to mislead and strong-arm our residents."

The mail pieces declare: "Your property taxes will go up if Arlington Heights caves to the demands of the Chicago Bears."

"We've never said one way or the other," Hayes said. "We just don't have enough information one way or the other to say what will happen, but that's certainly not our intention. We don't expect that's going to happen as a result of this redevelopment."

The petition drive follows the local chapter's more traditional in-person signature collection effort over the summer on a separate but related matter. Under an antiquated and rarely, if ever, used part of municipal code, the group collected at least 557 required signatures to compel the village board to vote on an ordinance that would have prohibited the municipality from "offering or extending any financial incentive to any business or corporation to operate in the village," including the Bears.

In October, village trustees unanimously voted down the proposal, while defending their use of public financing mechanisms and incentives -- such as tax increment financing and property tax abatements -- as tools in their economic development toolbox.


Village code allows for Costin's group to gather signatures of 12% of registered voters -- about 6,500 -- to get a binding referendum at the ballot box. While he didn't rule that out, Costin admitted it's a higher threshold than the advisory ballot question option.

The latest referendum drive comes amid revelations last week that the Bears are exploring use of a program called Payments in Lieu of Taxes as one piece of the financial equation to help pay for the massive redevelopment. The idea so far has gotten a rocky reception from area state legislators, who would have to approve a change in state law for the financing tool to work.

In a predevelopment agreement approved by the village board Nov. 7, the Bears acknowledge they will explore a host of "public-private partnerships" to help fund a portion of infrastructure costs at its envisioned mixed-use district, though not for the stadium construction cost itself.

That assistance could include tax increment financing, which would steer property tax money from schools and other local governments into the project; special service areas, in which property owners within the areas pay a special tax; special assessments; the creation of a business district with an extra sales tax in the redevelopment area; and a parking tax, according to the agreement.

Costin said he welcomes the Bears relocation from the city to the suburbs but believes the redevelopment should happen like any other commercial or residential project in Arlington Heights.

"It all comes back to the basic principles that we think that all businesses in the state of Illinois should be treated equally," he said. "And we do have problems in Illinois and in Cook County and Arlington Heights with really high taxes that make it hard to do business. But we should be addressing those problems for everyone, not just the businesses with the political clout or the popularity that perhaps the Bears do."

A Bears representative didn't respond to a request for comment about the petition drive. Last week, the team said it is continuing its due diligence in studying how to finance the proposed redevelopment, but has made no formal requests of politicians yet.

A closing on the NFL franchise's pending $197.2 million purchase of the racetrack from Churchill Downs Inc. is scheduled for the first quarter of 2023.

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