Luxury jet companies could score $50M in tax breaks after House vote

Capitol News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — The Illinois House voted on Wednesday, with little debate and no opposition, to approve a retroactive tax break worth an estimated $50 million specifically for luxury private jet manufacturers.

“Without this, we lose good-paying jobs, employees, we lose companies,” Representative Monica Bristow (D-Alton) said in a phone call on Thursday.

West Star Aviation in East Alton employs 507 employees in Bristow’s district, and the company benefits directly from this handout. According to Bristow, the company has used a portion of its tax savings to invest $32 million into its facilities, increase payroll by 400 percent, and pay workers a median income of $82,000 per year.

State lawmakers carved out the tax break specifically for West Star and 13 other private jet facilities in Illinois. It does not apply to commercial airliners.

In 2010, lawmakers approved a tax incentive for the private jet makers and repair shops. In 2014, while the state was entering a period of record fiscal pressure, a separate law automatically ended all permanent tax breaks that did not sunset or expire on their own.

The private jet facilities did not collect or pay any sales tax from 2015 through 2019, even though the law required them to. During the Rauner administration, the Department of Revenue conducted audits at some of the private luxury jet shops but failed to identify the missing tax revenue. The Illinois Aviation Trades Association tallied up the total estimated cost of the outstanding tax bill as roughly $50 million.

Private jets fly into Illinois for special repairs, Bristow says, sometimes from other countries. Without the tax break, she argues those customers would land their plane and take their business to any one of the 35 other states who have similar tax breaks.

“It’s what drives business,” Bristow said. “Who started it? I don’t know. But if we don’t do it, we lose out.”

The measure advanced out of the House and heads to the Senate for consideration. Senator Rachelle Crowe (D-Glen Carbon), whose district includes Bristow’s territory, is sponsoring the plan.

According to a document obtained by WCIA, a lobbyist representing Flightstar in Champaign, which employs 145 workers in the area, has notified Senate President John Cullerton’s office that the company could lose up to half of its business if the tax exemption is not restored.

Other private jet facilities who stand to gain from the tax break include Byerly Aviation in Peoria, Chicago Jet Group LLC, MidAmerica Jet Works, and Joliet Avionics in Sugar Grove, Dumont Aviation and the Synergy Flight Center in Bloomington, DuPage Aerospace Corporation in West Chicago, Elliott Aviation in Moline, Emery Air in Rockford, Gulfstream Aerospace in Oak Brook and Sauget, and Standard Aero in Springfield.

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