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Slow down, please

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* My Sun-Times column

An expensive bidding war is escalating at the Illinois Statehouse and it needs to be slowed down.

Gov. Pat Quinn met with the four legislative leaders Thursday morning. Much of the discussion centered around CME Group’s threat to leave Illinois unless it gets a tax break. CME owns the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade, among other things.

CME says it pays six percent of all Illinois corporate income taxes, making it the state’s largest taxpayer. The company also claims that the recent income tax hike cost it an extra $50 million a year. Its executive chairman, Terry Duffy, has repeatedly warned that he’s furious about his company’s tax burden and is seriously contemplating a move to a more favorable location.

The problem is that Illinois bases corporate taxes on instate sales and CME records all of its transactions that way, even though lots of transactions are occurring in other states and other countries. When Caterpillar sells a bulldozer in Germany, Illinois doesn’t tax that income. But when a CME trade is executed in Japan, that income is taxed by Illinois.

Our corporate tax system was changed several years ago at the behest of companies like Caterpillar. As a result, Cat paid less and CME paid more.

If Illinois readjusted its tax code, Cat would scream bloody murder. Caterpillar was already involved in one scary blowup this year over the state’s business climate. Nobody wants to poke that giant again.

So, the options are adjusting CME’s taxes or letting it leave. The state budget would take a huge hit if CME left, so we’re back to a tax cut. The problem is, the legislation drafted by Senate President John Cullerton would reduce CME’s taxes by $75 million a year. That’s a 50 percent cut. The Senate Republicans say CME’s taxes would actually fall by $100 million a year.

To sweeten the pot and attract downstate, suburban and Republican votes, Cullerton offered to reinstate the corporate research and development tax credit, which will cost the state as much as $30 million a year.

However, the Republicans want more. House Republican Leader Tom Cross insisted Thursday that a $500 million tax cut package be considered as part of the deal. Cross also wants the R&D reinstatement, so the total amount of tax cuts on the table right now is somewhere around $600 million.

All of these tax cuts have legitimate arguments in their favor.

But big tax cuts are stupid at a time when Illinois can’t pay its own bills unless the tax reductions produce lots of new state revenue by providing strong economic stimulus, or prevent significant revenue losses by convincing companies to stay put. According to the comptroller’s office, the state owes roughly $6 billion in past due bills, including $600 million in unpaid corporate income tax refunds.

So, we’re gonna cut corporate taxes by $600 million when we can’t even afford to pay corporations $600 million in tax refunds?

One of the problems we’ve had in this state for the past 20 years is that expensive deals were cut by the leaders behind closed doors and then legislators rubber stamped the agreements. A careful, legitimate process is underway in the House Revenue Committee to look at reforming the entire corporate tax code. That ought to be given time to ripen before the state makes any big moves.

And Cullerton’s CME proposal is just way too rich. The company should get a significant break, but $75-100 million is too much to ask for a company with healthy pretax profits of around $2 billion a year.

* House Republican Leader Tom Cross’ tax cut plan is here.

* From today’s coverage

“I get calls in my office, and I am not kidding, from small and medium sized businesses that say, ‘What about me? I’m struggling,’” Senator Christine Radogno, the Republican minority leader from Lemont, said during the committee hearing.

“I don’t want to perpetuate the perception of special treatment,” she said.

Speaking directly to CME’s Parisi, Radogno said, “If you guys leave because this doesn’t pass today, it does raise the question to the sincerity of whether or not you’re staying in the first instance.” […]

“We’re now looking at something growing like Topsy,” Representative Barbara Flynn-Currie, a Chicago Democrat, said in an interview. “The business community is telling us to spend less, get your fiscal house in order, and in the meantime their constituent elements are coming to Springfield with their hands out.”

* The company’s side

James Parisi, chief financial officer of CME Group, said the company’s tax payment last year represented 6 percent of all state corporate income tax receipts. The company’s annual tab is about $150 million.

“This modernization of tax law would allow Illinois and Chicago to maintain leadership as a global financial services center,” Parisi told the Senate Executive Committee.

* This tax cut push is apparently an element of the company’s longterm strategy. From Morningstar

We recently had an opportunity to attend CME’s analyst day, the company’s first such event since 2009. Among the subjects discussed at the gathering were the company’s targets for expense and revenue growth–two drivers we are particularly interested in. The company’s CFO set a long-term goal to grow revenue by at least 10% a year while keeping growth in operating expenses at no more than 5% per year on average. The expense target is in line with our views; the revenue goal, while certainly achievable, is a little more aggressive than our expectation for growth of around 8%

* Meanwhile, Reuters columnist David Clay Johnston reports that Navistar, Continental Tire, Motorola, Ford, Chrysler, Mitsubishi and other big Illinois companies are keeping the state taxes deducted from their workers’ paychecks. “If you’re already on the payroll, they get to get keep half of them,” Johnston says. “If you’re a new hire, they get to keep all of them.”

Because the companies don’t pay much state income tax the only way they can get any state tax help is by letting them “pocket their workers’ income tax.” Watch

* Related…

* Illinois Senate Executive Committee advances tax break measure for Chicago’s financial exchanges - Measure, which still faces hurdles, could cut up to $110 million a year from state coffers

* Tax break plan for exchange company faces fight

* Sears deal talks creep forward

* Dist. 300 eyes next steps in Sears tax break battle

posted by Rich Miller
Friday, Oct 28, 11 @ 9:47 am


  1. Who made the decision to allow large companies in IL to keep the income taxes deducted from their employee’s paychecks? Was it legislated? Was there a rulemaking adopted by JCAR? Did the Governor and/or IDOR unilaterally make the decision? Let’s investigate this vs. buttongate.

    Also, is CME one of the large companies doing this? If so, I’d think long and ahrd about any additional tax cuts for them, President Cullerton.

    Comment by GA Watcher Friday, Oct 28, 11 @ 10:02 am

  2. If CME wants to do business in a world class city, with its highly educated workforce, wonderful infrastructure, top notch political leadership, and all around great amenities, they should have to pay for it.

    End of story.

    Comment by Gates Friday, Oct 28, 11 @ 10:09 am

  3. I’m guessing that if CME is paying taxes in IL they are taking a credit for those taxes in Japan or some state.

    Comment by Hickory Friday, Oct 28, 11 @ 10:12 am

  4. Thank you sir, may I have another?

    Comment by Anonymous Friday, Oct 28, 11 @ 10:15 am

  5. When CME says they will leave, what does that mean?

    They said they will keep the trading floors here. They just completed a 428,000 co-location in Aurora. Those will have to be supported.

    What, exactly, under their current threat, would leave?

    They have Cullerton and Emanuel stumbling all over themselves to give them $100 million plus and they’ve never answered that question.

    As to Rep. Cross and his $500 million proposal — has anyone ever seen Tom Cross and Bruce Weber in the same room at the same time?

    Comment by wordslinger Friday, Oct 28, 11 @ 10:16 am

  6. Does someone like pin these plans to Tom Cross’ coat before he walks into a meeting or what?

    Comment by just sayin' Friday, Oct 28, 11 @ 10:18 am

  7. Tell them No

    Comment by Anonymous Friday, Oct 28, 11 @ 10:22 am

  8. Let’s up the package to:
    We’ll see your $100 million giveaway to CME, Billboard’s $500 million giveaway, PQ’s $6 billion bond scheme(BTW someone ought to report on the bond underwriters lottery scene — it was a stitch)
    AND demand free stock trades, golf at Duffy’s club and rides for senior
    Fire,Aim Ready

    Comment by CircularFiringSquad Friday, Oct 28, 11 @ 10:25 am

  9. I think the GA needs to be featured on one of the new Monday Night Football commercials featuring a variety of folks blowing off their jobs to go watch football.
    Staffer: “Here’s the bill regarding _____. Take some time to look it over before you vote.”
    GA member: “Um, let’s see. Yeah looks great. Can you vote yes for me? I gotta go.”
    Deep disembodied voice : “During veto session your only job is to watch football.”

    Comment by Will Friday, Oct 28, 11 @ 10:45 am

  10. @Gates - agreed, although we need to understand that the CME and CBOE are at the center of a financial services ecosystem here in Chicago that includes brokerage firms that trade and clear CME contracts, banks that support them, services firms and even restaurants and bars. Losing even part of these firms to another state would begin a gradual erosion of this ecosystem, and eventually eliminate Chicago’s place as a global financial services leader. We can debate what is needed to keep them here, but it is essential that they stay.

    Comment by Bluejay Friday, Oct 28, 11 @ 10:55 am

  11. CME Group reported more than $1 billion in income before income taxes for the first six months of 2011. After income taxes, they still reported more than $750 million for the first six months of the year.

    From their most recent SEC filing: “The company’s effective tax rate decreased to 26.3% in the first six months of 2011 from 41.8% in the first six months of 2010. The effective tax rate decreased by 11.6% due to a tax benefit of $118.1 million resulting from a change in state tax apportionment in the first quarter of 2011.”

    They don’t need a tax break.

    Comment by Patrick Friday, Oct 28, 11 @ 11:09 am

  12. CME already got huge business help from the government with regulations in the Dodd-Frank bill that ensure them a big piece of the pie of clearing OTC derivatives.

    This business does not need any more help from the government.

    It’s one thing to give tax breaks to manufacturers who employ lots of people in Illinois and produce and sell products in Illinois like Caterpillar does. That’s picking winners and losers, and there are some problems with that, but at least it can make some economic sense for the everyday Illinoisan.

    It’s quite another to give this monster tax break to a glorified casino for MBAs.

    It makes no sense that this state would pass the Amazon tax forcing Amazon out of the state for failing to collect taxes on online sales that passed through Illinois yet we are going to accept CME’s claim that they should not have to pay tax on online sales/trades that pass through Illinois.

    The only explanation is CME has more clout with, more friends among, and more money to give the politicians in this state than Amazon did.

    Comment by hisgirlfriday Friday, Oct 28, 11 @ 11:32 am

  13. Bluejay–every word of your post referencing Chicago’s place as a global financial center being an ecosystem surrounding, supporting, and benefitting from CBOE and CME is spot on. It shows your understanding of reality about this topic that unfortunately many normally savvy commenters on this blog seem to have a blind eye about.

    Comment by Responsa Friday, Oct 28, 11 @ 12:41 pm

  14. I have seen a lot of outrage on the CME proposal, but not as much discussion on the $50 million bump up to the Board in SB 747

    …”the first $50,000,000 shall be paid to the Board for the administration and enforcement of the provisions of this amendatory Act of the 97th General Assembly.” (page 294 line 11)

    Comment by Das Man Friday, Oct 28, 11 @ 12:48 pm

  15. ==Who made the decision to allow large companies in IL to keep the income taxes deducted from their employee’s paychecks?
    Also, is CME one of the large companies doing this? ==

    Public Acts 96-834, 96-905 and 97-2. CME doesn’t meet the qualifications in any of these acts.

    Comment by anonymous Friday, Oct 28, 11 @ 3:10 pm

  16. The David Clay Johnston (Reuters) video about the Illinois law allowing qualifying employers to retain employees personal income tax withholding (instead of remitting it to the State of IL) is from July 19, 2011. He is describing the Economic Development for a Growing Economy (EDGE) Tax Credit Act and its amendments.

    Democrats Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) and Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) were involved in the expansion of EDGE.

    Senator Pankau is proposing SB1359 - Income Tax - EDGE Withholding, to further expand the program.

    Some companies are lobbying for EDGE expansion.

    Illinois refuses to spend within its means and is in a vicious cycle of providing tax breaks yet increasing taxes.

    Comment by Mark Monday, Oct 31, 11 @ 6:38 am

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