Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Looking back on Chicago's great 2001 Boeing tax giveaway

Chicago Theater welcomed Boeing in 2001. 

It's been nearly 20 years since Boeing Corp. pulled one of the great hustles on the people of Chicago with help from then-Mayor Richard Daley and Gov. George Ryan. While many of us protested the deal that brought Boeing's headquarters from Seattle to Chicago, we couldn't stop the huge corporate tax giveaway that would become the norm for cities and states competing with each other for corporate investments.

Families of Boeing 737 MAX crash victims protest. 
Boeing promised to bring 500 high-paying jobs to Chicago and claimed that the combined executive pay would trickle down and create even more jobs and small businesses. This in exchange for $60 million in tax breaks for the huge military defense contractor. Their promise wasn't worth the paper it was written on.
Gov. Ryan even claimed at the time that the move would bring Illinois more than prestige. "It will pay huge dividends, producing a 100-to-1 return on the state's investment", he said.
It didn't. 

Boeing's former CEO Tom Condit explained in 2001 and later, the headquarters move was made to create psychological distance between the corporate leadership and the manufacturing sites on the ground.
There also was a suspicion that the corporate and political climate of Chicago — its more conservative, business-friendly bent; its expensive steakhouses where macho titans of industry could talk over cigars and scotch — would better suit the taste and personality of men like Boeing’s then-president, Harry Stonecipher.
From their airy perch in Chicago, Boeing’s leaders could — and did — make steely decisions about where to locate work or where to make layoffs at a safe remove from the people affected on the ground.
 The BGA's Alejandra Cancino, writes this week in Crain's, that the Boeing deal,
...laid down a marker for megadeals to come that opened the public purse in the name of economic development. Since then, states and cities have engaged in an escalating bidding war for jobs and bragging rights, with the promise of future economic riches as bait. 
A new massive $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package signed by Trump includes billions of dollars in loan guarantees for Boeing, in financial peril before the pandemic because of the grounding of its faulty 737 Max aircraft. By that and other incentive measures, the price tag for the 2001 Boeing deal might seem puny. 
As would the failed offer of $2 billion in tax incentives then-Mayor Emanuel and Gov. Rauner made to Amazon in exchange for a promised "50,000 new high-paying jobs." That deal fell through but it's one that Gov. Pritzker appeared ready to pursue again in 2019 when Rahm was still mayor.

With Rahm and Rauner gone and more important things for Mayor Lightfoot to focus on, I doubt he'll pursue it now.

Side Note -- I would call the two Boeing 737 Max crashes, which killed 346 men, women and children, a case of criminal neglect and malfeasance and wonder why none of those top execs have been dragged from their "airy perch" in Chicago and carted off to prison?

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