Editorial: Q: Why do the Bears need taxpayer help with their move to Arlington Heights? A: They don’t.

Forgive Bears fans for being underwhelmed by the NFL draft, which begins Thursday in Kansas City. The first game of the 2023 season doesn’t start until September, but that doesn’t matter to a fan base hungry for any shred of hope the draft might offer.

In Chicago’s northwest suburbs, however, taxpayers and taxing bodies are concerned with a very different Bears game plan — the playbook to get as much taxpayer help as possible to build a new megadevelopment, anchored at the stadium at what was once Arlington International Racecourse.

Most residents of Arlington Heights and the surrounding suburbs reacted with excitement to the prospect of the Bears coming to their area of ​​the Chicago area. What they’ve been less enamored with is the Bears’ insistence that taxpayers subsidize the non-stadium components of the project, including the new roads, utilities and other infrastructure needed to make it happen.

Several legislative ideas outlining what taxpayer help could look like have been floated. The latest comes from Rep. Marty Moylan, a Des Plaines Democrat. His bill dangles a carrot in front of his fellow Chicago lawmakers — a $3 per person tax on tickets to Bears games at the new stadium and events at the megadevelopment. That revenue would help pay off debt from the renovation of Soldier Field 20 years ago.

But his bill would also freeze the property tax assessment on the 326-acre site. It is precisely this component that has vexed taxpayers in the northwest suburbs and the tax authorities. Local school districts, for example, aren’t crazy about giving up revenue from incremental property tax increases on the site, especially since the project’s residential buildings will likely add more schoolchildren to their classrooms.

A similar tax subsidy setup for the Bears project was proposed earlier this year by state Sen. Ann Gillespie, an Arlington Heights Democrat. Assessments on the Bears’ site would be frozen for 40 years, and the team and Arlington Heights village officials would negotiate annual payments to local school districts and other taxing bodies on top of property taxes calculated from the frozen assessment.

Would these payments be enough? And why not let the myriad fiscal bodies affected by the plan have their say in those negotiations? Gillespie’s bill got nowhere in Springfield; Moylan’s measure may suffer the same fate.

His bill mirrors Gillespie’s proposal in significant ways, and Gov. JB Pritzker has already expressed skepticism about state taxpayers’ strong support for what is essentially a move of a billion-dollar company from Chicago to the suburbs.

“I honestly don’t think the public has an obligation to fund, in this major way, a private business,” Pritzker said in February after Gillespie’s bill was introduced. We don’t always agree with the governor, but in this case, he’s perfect.

The Bears calibrated their pitch carefully, promising that not a dime in taxes would go toward stadium construction. The team will take that price. The Bears’ request for taxpayer help is tied to the mixed-use portion of the project — hotels, office space, retail and residential buildings. They want subsidies to pay for sewer lines, roads, lane additions and other infrastructure that would support that part of the development.

But the Bears aren’t saying they’ll just build the stadium if they don’t get taxpayer help for the rest of the development. Their vision involves a package of services – the stadium and the mixed-use component. Up at Halas Hall, the view is that taxpayer help is not optional. Required.

We realize that the search for the team is in the early stages. But we caution the Bears against trying to move forward without all stakeholders on board. This includes local school districts, other fiscal bodies, and most importantly, taxpayers. And we urge the team to build a compelling case that there will be a market for the mixed-use portion of the project — the portion that will depend on taxpayer subsidies. Too often, Illinoisans have had to swallow higher taxes for boondoggles that have brought little or no benefit to them and their families.

And, the Bears should also remember that Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson hasn’t closed the door on the possibility — however remote — of the Bears sitting in a renovated, even domed, Soldier Field. When Johnson takes office in mid-May, new Bears president and CEO Kevin Warren should find time to meet with the new mayor and at least listen to what he has to say.

The Bears have their work cut out for them in the draft. Regardless of who they select, Super Bowl contention remains a distant prospect.

But the burden of justifying taxpayer help for their megadevelopment in Arlington Heights? It’s more like a Hail Mary.

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