Greg Ballard and Banking & Finance and Headquarters Relocations and Investing and Government & Economic Development and Government and Economic Development

Indianapolis courts Chicago Mercantile Exchange

December 2, 2011

Indianapolis' mayor has met with top executives of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to discuss bringing the financial market to Indiana's largest city.

Mark Lotter, a spokesman for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, told The Associated Press that Ballard left a U.S. Conference of Mayors water council meeting early to talk to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Lotter says the parties met for about an hour Friday afternoon.

He says city and state officials have been discussing a possible move with the exchange for months.

Earlier this week, the Illinois House rejected a $250 million package of  tax breaks intended to keep businesses like the 163-year-old exchange and Sears Holding Corp. from leaving the state. The exchange has said it's considering leaving Illinois because of its business tax.

CME has 2,570 employees worldwide, with most of them located in Chicago. It reported more than $3 billion in revenue in 2010 and more than $950 million in earnings.

IBJ reported on the possibility of the move in October.

Illinois legislative leaders said they were determined to reach a deal in the coming days or weeks despite a rejection by the House.

The idea of giving tax breaks to companies is a hard sell in any state legislature when many families are struggling and the Occupy Wall Street movement is reflecting anger at corporate interests. But advocates say if Illinois doesn't take action, the businesses and their thousands of jobs will be lured away by states that are eager to take advantage.

The Illinois Senate approved the proposal Tuesday in a special session, but the House balked, sending lawmakers into further negotiations.

Illinois' tax dilemma is a collision between two different goals: Balancing the budget and avoiding the image of a state that's bad for business. And in the process, officials want to avoid being exploited by companies making threats, perhaps empty ones, to flee Illinois.

When 2011 began, the state faced a deficit projected to hit $15 billion. The Democratic governor and Democratic majorities in the Legislature decided an income tax increase had to be part of the response to that gap.

They bumped the individual tax rate to 5 percent, up from 3 percent originally, and the corporate rate to 7 percent, from 4.8 percent. The increase, most of which is temporary and will expire in stages over the next 15 years, is supposed to generate about $6.8 billion in its first year.

Other states pounced. New Jersey, Indiana, Wisconsin and more began promoting themselves to Illinois businesses. They succeeded in drawing some companies away, despite protestations from Illinois officials that the state still has a low overall tax burden.

In the months since then, the same Democratic governor and Democratic legislators have passed measures to cut business costs for workers' compensation and unemployment insurance costs. Now the package of tax breaks is on the table.

Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, said officials went too far with the January tax increase.

"They overreached," Whitley said. "They're trying to bring the pendulum back to a more middle ground and they're trying to send a strong message to employers that elected officials are not oblivious to their outcry."

The proposed tax package would have renewed a $15 million income tax credit and a break on local property taxes for Sears, which has its headquarters in the Chicago suburbs.

The proposal also would have cut income taxes about $85 million for CME Group Inc. and CBOE Holdings Inc., which run the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board Options Exchange.

The companies complain that they are still taxed on every transaction they handle, as if all business is still conducted by shouting men on trading floors, when most of their trades are now done electronically by buyers and sellers who have no connection to Illinois. The legislation being discussed would tax the exchanges on only 27.54 percent of their revenues.

Some legislators question whether Sears, CME and CBOE would really uproot their operations and leave Illinois. They worry that giving the companies what they want will encourage similar demands from other businesses.

"What's going to stop the next big company from putting a gun to our head with the same type of threat?" said Rep. Mary Flowers, a Chicago Democrat.

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