Rauner’s commerce director to House: ‘We are in need of desperate reform’

SHARE Rauner’s commerce director to House: ‘We are in need of desperate reform’

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House on Tuesday took up yet another issue dear to Gov. Bruce Rauner: privatizing the state’s commerce department.

Rauner’s $142,338-a-year Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director Jim Schultz said the governor wants to revamp the way incentives are handed out to businesses and said he believed more funds should flow to small businesses. Schultz advocated for splitting the department into a partnership between a state agency and not-for-profit agency.

The proposal originally was included in a compromise bill between the governor’s office and Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, but the agreement later fell apart. On Tuesday, Madigan said that his staff was working out a compromise with the governor’s staff, but governors’ aides walked away when the speaker’s office wanted a sunset on the proposed bill.

“We are in need of desperate reform,” Schultz said. “The DCEO is two decades behind our competition. We need to retool and rebuild.”

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The House met in a Committee of the Whole, calling witnesses to testify on a private-public partnership for the agency that doles out millions of dollars in grants and business incentives each year. State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, who has long advocated for a change-up with the agency, headed up the hearing.

Franks said previous hearings he and another lawmaker held regarding the state’s EDGE business tax credit program have shown little benefit from the incentive.

That program offers tax breaks to corporations in exchange for their agreeing to stay in Illinois.

Franks said there was “scant” evidence that freebies given to corporations really resulted in much benefit to the state.

“I’m concerned that we’ve given hundreds of millions of dollars, andwe’re still losing jobs and still losing populations,” Franks said.

Schultz said he believes similar private-public structures have succeeded in other states and said he would address one of the pitfalls of other states by creating an office of Accountability and Transparency.

“We think it’s important that this agency be subject to [the Freedom of Information Act], and weincluded FOIA language in the bill,” he said.

The most heated moment came whenstate Rep. Will Davis, D-East Hazel Crest, asked Schultz whether state government jobs would be eliminated under the governor’s proposed bill.

“I didn’t come here to create jobs just for the state of Illinois,” Schultz said, raising his voice. “I came to create jobs for every citizen in the state of Illinois, all 12.9 million citizens. In the end I care about net jobs, not about a particular agency.”

The remarks drew applause from Republicans in the chamber.

“I don’t understand why you are all clapping, I’m asking a workforce question and he’s not answering,” Davis shouted as Schultz talked over him.

Schultz said if DCEO was closed entirely, as some lawmakers asked, the state would lose 400 “middle class jobs.” If it’s privatized, he said there would be no net loss to Illinois, with about half moving to the private sector.

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