May 22, 2024

Rich Miller: Springfield has little appetite for tax-funded stadiums

Chicago-area news outlets have been so intent on amplifying every possible angle on the proposals for new publicly financed sports stadiums that they’ve sometimes missed the bigger picture.

Senate President Don Harmon last week tried to make it simple for everyone what that bigger picture is.

In a speech to the Illinois Chamber, in town for its annual lobby day, Harmon said he made it clear to White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf when he visited Springfield earlier this year seeking public funding for a new stadium and has tried to make it clear ever since that there is “next to no appetite to fund a new stadium with taxpayer dollars.”

Harmon didn’t leave the door open a crack by saying “next to no appetite.” There might be some members who could be open to the idea, but there simply aren’t nearly enough of those folks right now to cobble together a majority of 30 votes in the Senate and 60 in the House and a governor’s signature.

Meetings he and other leaders have had with other sports team owners also have been blown out of proportion. Harmon told the audience that all sorts of people meet with him on a regular basis, “but the common theme running through all of this is that it’s often my job to let them down.”

Hopefully, people can take a breath and stop hyping every sports team owner move as some sort of sign. I mean, we haven’t even seen an actual plan yet from the White Sox or the Bears (or the Sky, or…).

Harmon’s overall message in his speech, however, was aimed at the business community itself and boiled down to the old adage, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.” He emphasized that point when he was asked about a bill to scale back penalties in the state’s controversial Biometric Information Privacy Act.

Sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Bill Cunningham, Senate Bill 2979 would limit the penalties for violating state law on businesses collecting biometric information (fingerprints, eye scans, etc.) from workers and customers without prior informed consent. The law currently penalizes each unlawful collection of that data, but the bill limits the penalties to each person from whom data is collected, saving businesses that violate the law a ton of money.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled last year that its hands were tied when the fast-food chain White Castle appealed its loss of a lawsuit which the company claimed could cost it as much as $17 billion in damages. The company argued, in part, that the 2008 law could result in an unconstitutional “annihilative liability” for businesses caught up in lawsuits. The top court said it was up to the General Assembly to make any changes and all but begged the legislature to act.

When Harmon was asked about possible additions to the bill, he said the proposal was designed specifically to address the Supreme Court’s ruling and added that (like with the stadiums) he didn’t see “an appetite for additional amendments.”

Harmon also said he was “a bit disappointed” at the opposition from some top business groups. “We are delivering a huge win for Illinois businesses,” Harmon claimed. “It’s not everything they want, but if you listen to my speech, progress is good. Nobody gets everything that they want.”

“I also recognize,” Harmon said, “that many bills are awful and horrible and the end of the world until they pass, when they’re suddenly really good. And I hope that the business community will recognize the importance of this reform when it passes.”

Two days later, state Sen. Cunningham called it for a vote.

Some groups had pushed Cunningham to explicitly make his law retroactive in order to help companies that have already been hit with massive penalties. But Cunningham said courts could “take judicial notice” of the amendment when asked to determine or reduce an award.

Asked by Senate Republican Leader John Curran about data center owners who are worried that they could be sued for merely hosting illegally collected biometric information stored by their clients on their cloud servers, Cunningham acknowledged the issue, but said no data centers have yet been sued. He said he wanted to focus on the Supreme Court’s “invitation” to address the law. He did not rule out future action, though.

After bringing up another issue raised by the trucking industry, Curran eventually said that he’d recommend supporting the bill and it passed 46-13, with five Republicans joining their leader.

Perfect was not the enemy of the good.

• Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

Rich Miller

Rich Miller

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.