Want to know how much Illinois is giving Amazon in tax breaks? Now you can look online.
Agreements for tax credits reached under Illinois' premier jobs program can now be viewed on the website of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the state announced Thursday.
The agreements available to view are those Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration has made under the EDGE program, short for Economic Development for a Growing Economy, and include deals with Amazon, ConAgra Foods, eBay and more. Previously, the public had to file open records requests to find out the details of the agreements.
The program, which provides tax breaks for companies that promise to create jobs in Illinois, is set to expire April 30. There have been concerns that the EDGE program is too expensive, given Illinois' prolonged budget crisis. Yet without it, many fear jobs could be lost to neighboring states wooing companies with tax breaks. Bills proposing a replacement program are working their way through the General Assembly.
The Rauner administration has made changes to the EDGE program, shutting down job incentives that his Democratic predecessor, Gov. Pat Quinn, allowed for job retention. Rauner also halted a practice that let dozens of companies collect millions of dollars in tax breaks for creating jobs at one office while eliminating a greater number of jobs at another location.
A Chicago Tribune investigation highlighted the practice in October 2015. The Tribune found at least 37 agreements in which Illinois companies were rewarded with tax credits after hiring employees in one location while firing a far greater number of workers at another site.
The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity said in a news release that publishing the EDGE agreements is a push for transparency.
"It's always been an initiative, we just have finally gotten (to) where we're able to do it," spokeswoman Jacquelyn Reineke said. The department soon plans to publish agreements made under previous administrations as well.
However, some information, such as the capital investments companies are required to make in exchange for the tax credits, has been blacked out in the posted documents.
Reineke said the redacted information mainly includes companies' trade secrets, which are protected from disclosure under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
In December, Amazon announced it would bring two more distribution centers to the Chicago area and promised more than 1,000 jobs in Aurora. The e-commerce giant is set to receive nearly $12.9 million in corporate tax breaks under the EDGE program.
The details of that deal can now be seen online, along with details surrounding deals for other Amazon facilities in suburban Monee and Joliet, set to benefit from almost $28 million and more than $71 million in corporate tax breaks, respectively.
Concerns over transparency are one reason state Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, got involved in the legislation for the program to replace EDGE. The proposed program is called THRIVE, short for Transforming, Helping and Reviving Illinois' Versatile Economy.
When you don't know what the price tag is for the tax credits, "it gets even bigger in your mind," said Wheeler, who is sponsoring the THRIVE legislation in the House.
As currently envisioned, THRIVE would give companies credit for 50 percent of the Illinois withholding tax attributable to the jobs created. EDGE gives 100 percent credit.
State Sen. Pamela Althoff, R-McHenry, also is sponsoring a THRIVE bill that's working its way through the Senate. Althoff said she asked in a House hearing Thursday for help creating a working group to craft just one bill.
"I'm hopeful that we will have something everyone can agree to in place obviously before April 30," she said.