The draft of a bill that potentially would entitle the Chicago Bears to millions of dollars in subsidies for their proposed new Arlington Heights stadium complex has surfaced in Springfield—and there are signs it has begun to pick up significant backing.
Under a measure that the Bears have been informally shopping for a while and which has now moved to a new phase, the state could create a new kind of break known as payment in lieu of taxes, or PILT.
The measure is somewhat similar to tax-increment financing in that the tax value of property in a PILT district would be frozen for at least 20 years for normal purposes, with revenue from any development of the land used in part to compensate the developer for their expenses.
PILT is different from TIFs in that the initial tax payment would be negotiated with local taxing bodies, rather than being set at an appraised level. And only “megaprojects” that involve at least $500 million in investments would qualify.
“Illinois’ property tax system disproportionately discourages large-scale projects that generate significant economic activity relative to their burden on taxing districts, placing Illinois at a competitive disadvantage to other states,” says a fact sheet distributed by a representative of the Bears. The fact sheet specifically points to the state’s failure to attract any electric vehicle battery plant—an apparent suggestion that the Bears would be only one of many potential beneficiaries of the bill.
The team failed to immediately respond to a request for comment but earlier had indicated it was interested in the concept. The Bears have said they need a subsidy not for the stadium itself but adjacent real estate that would be developed for shopping, entertainment and potentially housing.
The head of one major business group, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, confirmed in a phone call that the chamber is generally supportive of the bill.
In a phone interview, CEO Todd Maisch said the chamber is “highly inclined to be in favor of the legislation,” which has been drafted but not yet introduced. Before totally signing off, Maisch said he’d like to see final language and would prefer that some other development breaks be added, such as for the long-blighted south suburbs.
Also said to be in support is the Illinois Road & Transportation Builders Association, an influential Springfield trade group that is close to organized labor. CEO Mike Sturino was not immediately available for comment, but language in the bill guarantees that construction work on any PILT project will be done under a project labor agreement that generally guarantees payment of the union wage to all workers.
The Bears representative underlined that dozens of other states have legislation on their books similar to the PILT proposal here.
No sponsor yet has been selected for the bill, but it’s believed the Bears have run it by top legislative leaders. There are two key questions: Will the city of Chicago, which hopes to retain the Bears at Soldier Field, outright oppose the measure? And will local public school districts go along since the draft appears to leave negotiations for the amount of tax that will be paid not to them but to the sponsoring municipality?
The draft also would allow local governments to use the increased taxes they do get under a PILT agreement as a revenue stream to issue bonds, perhaps for infrastructure.
Reaction to earlier reports of the Bears’ lobbying in Springfield has been mixed in the Arlington Heights area, with some officials expressing general support but others saying the Bears-owning McCaskey family is wealthy and does not need a public break.
The team is expected to announce soon whether it will close on the Arlington Heights property, the former site of Arlington International Racecourse.