News Column

Quinn Signs Bill to Extend Enterprise Zones for 25 Years

Aug. 7, 2012

Alejandra Cancino

Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday signed into law a bill that extends the life-span of special taxing districts by 25 years.

"The best way to fight poverty, the best way to fight crime, the best way to keep families together, the best way to help everybody is a J.O.B.," Quinn said during a ceremony at the Ford Assembly Plant in Chicago, where he signed the bill.

Quinn said the so-called enterprise zones, which allow businesses to tap incentives, including tax credits, property tax abatements and sales tax exemptions, will create jobs. Companies, Quinn said, want stability and certainty to grow. The extension of the program creates that, he added.

The first batch of the state's 97 zones would have begun to expire next year.

The program's supporters say these incentives attract and retain businesses. Critics have said that the zones are not well-monitored for effectiveness and that they siphon away state and local tax revenue.

The new law also loosens the rules of the program. Participation was limited to blighted areas, defined by considerations such as income, unemployment and poverty rates. Communities will now compete for new zones as older ones expire.

Critics have said that the original program's goal will be lost once the bidding is opened up. Supporters contend that the new process is more competitive.

Five additional zones will be created and 68 zones will be up for grabs in 2016. The last 10 of the 25-year extensions will be subject to review.

The final decision on which communities get the special tax district will rest with a five-member board, headed by the director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The board will also include the director of the Department of Revenue and three Quinn appointees.

The Illinois Manufacturers' Association pushed legislators for years to extend the life of the zones and create additional ones. But questions on whether the program is working derailed past efforts. The language in the bill is a compromise between two measures introduced last legislative session.

Lawmakers created the program nearly three decades ago to stimulate business and industrial growth and revitalize blighted areas. The state's fiscal 2011 report on the program says companies created 8,980 jobs, retained 14,119 jobs and invested $2.5 billion in the state.

A Tribune analysis estimated the state program's cost at about $95 million for fiscal 2010. The newspaper based its calculations on figures from the state comptroller office's tax expenditure report. Those figures do not take into account county and municipal incentives or other deals not reported to the comptroller's office.

To help officials determine whether the program is a job-creation tool or a drain on state coffers, companies will be required to report the value of their tax incentives. But their names and details of their projects will remain secret.

The bill also opens the door for companies that use staffing agencies or part-time workers to tap into the incentives. A full-time job is defined as a person working for at least 35 hours a week for 52 weeks, for a minimum total of 1,820 hours a year. Under the new language, a company could receive tax breaks for the number of hours it employs workers rather than the number of workers. Every 1,820 hours worked per year will equal one job.

After the event in Chicago Quinn headed to Rockford for another signing ceremony. He also planned stops in Moline, Peoria, Decatur and Mount Vernon.



Source: (c)2012 the Chicago Tribune. Distributed by MCT Information Services


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