Friday, December 30, 2011

We shouldn’t be surprised that Sears closes stores after getting tax break

There are many people these days who are outraged with Sears, using the Internet to vent their rage at the fact that the retailer had the gall to demand a serious tax break from the Illinois General Assembly, then announce that it plans to close stores across the country.

Personally, I can’t get upset – largely because it is exactly the kind of conduct I would have expected. I’m dismayed that conditions are like this, but not the least bit surprised that it could happen like this.

BESIDES, IT ISN’T like any agreement was violated. The actions that happened this month are completely within the “letter of the law.” If anything, Sears’ behavior is perfect evidence of the fact that not every bad thing that happens is illegal.

So let’s look at what happened with Sears, which used its political clout to pressure the Illinois Legislature and Gov. Pat Quinn to back a measure giving the corporation some serious tax breaks.

At a time when Illinois government is looking for every bit of income it can get its hands on, the idea that it would be willing to “give back” some money is a significant act on its part.

But Sears Holding Corp. used political blackmail, so to speak, to get what it wanted. They threatened to leave their northwest suburban corporate headquarters and relocate to some other state (possibly North Carolina, in Charlotte) if they weren’t given financial incentives to stay.

ILLINOIS GOVERNMENT, NOT wanting the national “black eye” of having a company with such history leaving our boundaries, gave in. They got their tax breaks, although it took the General Assembly several tries to get it done.

And some legislators prefer to think that they voted to grant some tax relief to low-income people. Although anyone who is being honest admits that no one would have cared about the low-income people if not for the need to address Sears.

But this week, saying that the Christmas holiday season was nowhere near as good financially as they would have wanted, Sears said that about 120 stores across the country will have to be shuttered. On Thursday, they went so far as to identify 79 locations – with the implication being that another 40 or so yet-to-be-identified stores will also be closed in the near future.

Now this deal doesn’t, in any way, affect the fact that the corporate headquarters will continue to be in Hoffman Estates – which was the only condition of the tax break.

NOBODY EVER PROMISED that all the stores would stay open. So nothing legally improper (a.k.a., criminal) has occurred.

I’m sure the fact that no Sears stores (or their sister K-mart stores) in Illinois are being closed is solely because no one wants to tick off the political people here. But when a little more time passes, there could well be Illinois-based Sears stores that get closed.

In fact, the only Chicago-area store affected by this week’s announced round of closings is a K-mart in St. John, Ind.

That store at the far southeast corner of the Chicago metropolitan area likely is cost some jobs and some will be hurt. But it is on the other side of State Line Road. I’m sure that Sears officials are justifying this one local closing by thinking to themselves, “What has Indiana done for us lately?”

WHICH MAY NOT be an illegal viewpoint for them to have. But it is one that bothers me that we have to accept it as just the way things are done.

It is the reason why I have my problems with the ideologues of our society who like to rant that our governments in Illinois and Chicago are anti-business. We supposedly tax so excessively that no reputable business would want to locate within our area.

Ignoring the fact that access to the Chicago-area, with all its perks and joys, is something of significant value to a business in-and-of itself.

The kind of people who want to think they’re being “pro-business” are really just too eager to give in to the corporate whims that would just as soon believe they should not have to pay any kind of tax.

ALL-TOO-OFTEN, THEY’RE THE same entities that rant about how profitable they could be – if only they didn’t have to pay such ridiculously-high wages to their employees. As though they’d have any kind of product or service to sell for profit if NOT for their employees.

Which means the next time I hear that someone is complaining about how “anti-business” Illinois and Chicago are, I’m going to wonder if they’re the kind of person who thinks it is somehow proper that Sears would whack away at stores and jobs just a couple of weeks after getting a significant business break from state government.

The fact that anyone could think this is acceptable is what I find offensive – much more than the business’ act itself.


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