A while back, during an Illinois House Revenue and Finance Committee hearing, Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D) characterized an ADM executive's testimony as "essentially blackmailing the state . . . saying, 'If you don't go through this hoop for us, we may think about going somewhere else.'" A big company trying to blackmail a state into giving it tax incentives -- that's terrible. Unfortunately, it happens every day.
The sad truth, however, is that ADM is acting rationally. Illinois companies like Sears, CME Group Inc., Navistar, and Motorola have asked for tax incentives to do what they were going to do anyway. And the brave souls who run Illinois gave those companies the tax breaks they wanted. If I ran a big corporation in Illinois, I would have my lobbyists asking for tax breaks daily. Why not? The tax incentive racket is a profit center for most corporations in Illinois. Is it blackmail? Sure. But it is cold, calculated, rational blackmail.
As I write this, the Illinois legislature is contemplating giving ADM what it wants. The good news is that there was some backlash about subsidizing a company to move within the state (and move its headquarters from a place with high unemployment to a place with low unemployment). The bad news is that backlash has seemingly subsided. ADM will get its incentives. Unfortunately, state lawmakers and governors seem to forget that they have the power to just say no.