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Relationships with state officials grow at CATA Town Hall meeting

November 11, 2010

At the inaugural CATA Town Hall meeting, on July 21, CATA Chairman Steve Foley Jr. told a contingent of Illinois lawmakers that while new-vehicle dealerships are categorized as small businesses, "We are the foundation upon which sales tax revenues are based."

Indeed, NADA statistics indicate that franchised new-vehicle dealers generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues for state and local governments via sales taxes, corporate taxes, and payroll taxes. The average Illinois dealer employs 49 workers.

But the legislators at the Town Hall meeting are well aware of dealers’ impact on the state coffers, and they encouraged the 30-plus dealers there to exercise their influence.

"Dealers have political power they don’t know they have," said Sen. John Millner (R-St. Charles). "Invite your legislator to your dealership and get to know him. We’ll be happy to come and sit with you and meet your employees, who are voters."

Mike McGrath Jr., chairman of the CATA board’s committee that governs the political action committee, CATPAC, said the Town Hall meeting was developed to grow relationships between area dealers and state legislators.

Millner said dealers sometimes can convey local issues better than lobbyists, who are not aware of them because they are anchored in Springfield. "Pick up the phone," he said. "We’re here for you. We’d like to hear from you."

Some legislative districts include multiple counties, but the one Rep. Kevin McCarthy serves includes portions of just Orland Park and Tinley Park, an area the Democratic lawmaker said is blessed with many dealerships that generate about 60 percent of the district’s sales tax revenue.

Sen. Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), the Republican leader of the Senate, spoke of the issues confronting lawmakers, notably the state’s $13 budget shortfall.

"Our state has serious, serious problems," she said. "The difference (between Democrats and Republicans) is how to go forward. Getting out of this by taxing alone is not an option."

Radogno said increasing the state income tax rate by 1 percent would generate $4 billion. Finding savings and efficiency, she said, must be part of the equation.

"Medicaid represents one-third of the budget, so if we find savings in that," she said, "you’re looking at a big number."

Radogno said she opposes increased tax rates to solve the state’s fiscal woes, but supports an increased tax base achieved by putting more people to work.

Retiring Sen. James DeLeo (D-Chicago) said one of his most memorable votes during his career in Springfield was the 1983 vote to require dealerships to close Sundays. "I thought to myself, ‘Why is government dictating how dealers do business?’

"But then I learned from an old lobbyist that in order for dealers to retain the best salespeople and service workers, they need to give their people the day off, to be with their families."

State Sens. Dan Cronin (R-Elmhurst) and Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge), and Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) also attended the event to learn dealers’ concerns. Cronin is running to become president of the DuPage County Board.

Foley, the CATA chairman, said small businesses can find it difficult to operate amid the recurring peaks and valleys of the state budget. Kotowski pointed to a recent Senate amendment that would require government agencies to tender multi-year revenue forecasts and identify spending priorities. He nicknamed the amendment "Budgeting for results."

"We would get a better result for the price of government," Kotowski said.