A petition circulating in Arlington Heights could hamper the town’s ability to offer financial incentives to the Chicago Bears in their proposed relocation to the town, as well as to any business seeking to locate there.
An organization called Americans for Prosperity, which its Illinois director Brian Costin described as libertarian, is leading the campaign for an ordinance that would bar the town from offering any kind of financial incentive to “any business or corporation to operate in town. ”
Americans for Prosperity was founded by David and Charles Koch, a pair of billionaire brothers who became some of the most influential conservatives in the nation. The group has been active on the national political scene advocating for lower taxes and smaller government, as well as dismantling the power of unions, according to a Harvard University research project.
An “anti-corporate welfare ordinance,” as the group calls it, calls for not using taxpayer money in such ways and “declare an end to economically destructive and corrupt politics.”
Costin said Americans for Prosperity is circulating the petition to rein in corporate giveaways from public bodies in general, though the Bears’ situation offers a compelling example.
He said his organization wasn’t really opposed to the team settling in the town.
“We’re not opposed to the stadium being there if they follow the rules that are the same as any other business in Arlington Heights,” he said.
According to their website, American Advocates for Prosperity for “long-term solutions to the country’s biggest problems” and engages “friends and neighbors on key issues and encourages them to take an active role in advancing a free and open society.”
The group says its petition is about ensuring equal treatment of businesses and good use of taxpayers’ money. Village leaders condemn the effort as the latest example of outsiders telling Arlington Heights leaders how the village should run.
The Illinois chapter of Americans for Prosperity is based in Rolling Meadows, a town not far from the Arlington International Racetrack, where the Bears could move from Chicago’s Soldier Field.
According to Costin, more than 300 people have signed the petition so far.
arlington heights municipal code provides that if 1% of the village’s registered voters sign a petition, then the petitioner, as Americans for Prosperity, can submit a proposed ordinance to the Village Board for consideration.
According to the Cook County Clerk, Arlington Heights has 54,586 registered voters. That means the petition needs at least 546 signatures.
If the town trustees consider and reject the proposed ordinance, the code gives the petitioner the option to collect signatures from 12% of the registered voting population, which would currently equate to 6,550 required signatures.
If the petitioner achieves that benchmark, his proposed ordinance would go directly to the ballot as a binding referendum. If approved by voters, the ordinance would go into effect.
However, if the village attorney informs the board that the proposal conflicts with constitutional provisions or other laws, the village board can still reject the proposal, according to the village code.
Mayor Tom Hayes has said that the use of tax dollars is a “last resort” tool to seal a deal with the football team.
The use of village tax money could take a few different forms, including the establishment of a tax increment financing district, where property taxes are frozen at a particular level to put additional profit after redevelopment towards improving the area.
Hayes said he is “sure” the Bears’ planned deal, in which the Bears signed a $197.2 million purchase agreement for Arlington International Racetrack in September 2021, is “at least why some of this effort is going forward.”
It strongly opposes what Americans for Prosperity is trying to present.
“We don’t think it’s something that’s best for the town,” he said. “If something like this is enacted, then all of those businesses will go elsewhere, and how will that benefit our residents?”
Hayes added that he would do “everything in my power to stop (such an ordinance).”
Arlington Heights Village Manager Randy Recklaus told the Pioneer Press that the ordinance AFP is seeking, which makes no particular mention of the Bears or Arlington International Racetrack, would do serious harm to the village’s economic prospects. .
“The village routinely engages in public-private partnerships to see economic development and this would take all of that off the table,” he said. “It would literally cripple our ability to participate in economic development.”
When asked if there was a case for making a publicly funded investment to develop the Bears’ racetrack site, Recklaus said “it’s too early to talk about anything for that project at this point.”
But he said he “would anticipate this (the Americans for Prosperity effort) to be something that is likely to alarm many in the business community.”
He added that even if the petition gathered enough signatures and became law through a referendum, the Town Board could still amend it after it was approved.
State Sen. Ann Gillespie, a Democrat from Arlington Heights, said that while she opposes using public money to bring the Bears to the village, Americans for Prosperity’s proposed ordinance is too broad.
“I think there are legitimate uses for public support for business,” he said.
For example, Gillespie said, he would support the use of public money to incentivize development where developers commit to building affordable housing in the area for 30 years.
Whatever happens next in discussions between Arlington Heights, the Bears and Chicago, Gillespie said he thinks the state is unlikely to get involved.
“It’s between two communities within the state, Chicago (and) the Village of Arlington Heights,” he said. “I don’t see a role for the state in arbitration in that kind of situation.”