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National Editorials & Columns

Tax-break stance latest in Madigan PR ploy

House Speaker Michael Madigan’s spokesman said last week that his boss’ statement opposing further corporate “handouts” basically “speaks for itself.” But does it?

Madigan invoked the populist gods last week as he called for an end to the “case-by-case system of introducing and debating legislation whenever a corporation is looking for free money from Illinois taxpayers.” Companies requesting the tax breaks, Madigan said, “pay little to no corporate income tax to the state, contributing little or nothing to help fund the very services from which they benefit significantly.”

It would be much easier to believe Madigan had he not just last month pushed a bill over to the Illinois Senate which would give Univar a tax break to help the West Coast corporation move its headquarters to Illinois. Not coincidentally, Univar has an existing facility just next door to Madigan’s House district.

The Senate refused to pass the stand-alone Univar bill, opting instead to include the Univar break in a wider package benefiting OfficeMax and ADM. That bill cruised through the Senate, but Madigan didn’t allow it to be called in the House after the pension reform proposal was approved.

So, Madigan’s infamous transactional nature and the traditional tension between the two chambers both appear to be playing into this.

Contrast Madigan’s statement about corporate “handouts” with Senate President John Cullerton’s staunch defense of his chamber’s passage of the tax breaks.

There also is some continuing tension between Madigan and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who refused to publicly endorse a specific ADM tax break bill. Emanuel wants Decaturbased ADM’s new “world headquarters” to be located in Chicago, but hizzoner never publicly requested the subsidy the company wants, and Madigan didn’t want his members taking heat for “corporate welfare” while Emanuel benefited without cost.

This move also has a macro side. Madigan has never really cared much about the publicity he gets, but after he was publicly singled out by gay marriage proponents as the main impediment to the bill’s passage, Madigan helped push the legislation over the top and then took credit in an unusual post-vote press conference with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Greg Harris.

Madigan then gave himself full credit for passage of the pension reform bill, claiming that the bill couldn’t have passed without his own leadership. His statement blatantly ignored the undeniable fact of Cullerton’s massive policy shift on pension reform, which was what really led to the bill’s success.

More importantly, though, the Speaker’s statement signaled yet again that he wanted praise for his accomplishments – something he’s never asked for in the past.

• Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter

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