Friday, January 21, 2011

Christie Hopes to Lure Businesses Fleeing Illinois Taxes

Watch out, Illinois: New Jersey wants your businesses.

It is a time-honored tradition for mayors and governors of neighboring cities and states to compete for large corporations with tax breaks and other incentives. And so it was no surprise that the steep new tax increases approved this week by the governor of Illinois inspired the kind of trash talking heard more often from athletes than from state chief executives.

“Escape to Wisconsin,” chortled Scott Walker, the state’s Republican governor. Mitch Daniels, the Republican who runs Indiana, compared Illinois to the Simpsons — “you know, the dysfunctional family down the block?”

But New Jersey? Trenton is about 900 miles from Springfield, Ill. Jersey City is a 13-hour drive from Chicago. None of that deterred Gov. Chris Christie, a New Jersey Republican who spent much of last fall stumping around the country, from speaking up even before Gov. Patrick J. Quinn of Illinois, a Democrat, had signed the legislation.

“I’m going to Illinois,” Mr. Christie said in an interview on Wednesday. “I mean soon. I’m going to Illinois, personally, and going to start talking to businesses in Illinois and get them to come to New Jersey.”

Mr. Quinn was unfazed. “Well, lots of luck to them,” he said, “but that’s not going to happen.”

Illinois raised its personal income tax rate to 5 percent from 3 percent, and its business income taxes to 9.5 percent from 7.3 percent. Despite the eye-catching increases in Illinois, New Jersey may have a tough time making the case that it offers businesses a friendlier environment.

New Jersey’s personal income tax — 6.37 percent for married couples earning more than $150,000 a year, and 8.97 percent for those making more than $500,000 — is among the nation’s highest. The state’s business income tax is 9 percent for businesses with income over $100,000, so Illinois’ is now somewhat higher, but Illinois has lower sales and property taxes.

In October, the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit research organization, rated Illinois as having the 23rd-best tax environment for businesses among the states; if the new increases had been in place then, the foundation says, Illinois would have ranked 36th.

New Jersey, however, stood 48th in the foundation’s assessment, after several years in last place — a dubious distinction taken over by New York. (Mr. Daniels seems to have more room to gloat than Mr. Walker: the foundation ranked Indiana 10th and Wisconsin 40th.)

Mr. Christie acknowledged that over all, taxes remain higher in New Jersey, but he said he could offer something more valuable, certainty.

“The pitch I’m going to make to businesses in Illinois is, ‘With Pat Quinn as your governor and this Democratic Legislature, you can guarantee this is just the beginning,’ ” Mr. Christie said. “As long as I’m governor, you’re not going to see that happen.”

It remains to be seen what kind of campaign for defections Mr. Christie has in mind. His administration would not say when he will make his trip to Illinois, or what companies New Jersey will go after.

In an e-mail, Maria Comella, the governor’s communications director, wrote, “We have already begun business outreach, but nothing else cemented enough to be printed in the paper yet.”

No comments: