SPRINGFIELD -- The chairman and CEO of Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc. is raising the specter of moving the heavy equipment maker out of Illinois.

In a letter sent March 21 to Gov. Pat Quinn, Caterpillar chief executive officer Doug Oberhelman said officials in at least four other states have approached the company about relocating since Illinois raised its income tax in January.

"I want to stay here. But as the leader of this business, I have to do what's right for Caterpillar when making decisions about where to invest," Oberhelman wrote in the letter obtained Friday by the Lee Enterprises Springfield bureau. "The direction that this state is headed in is not favorable to business and I'd like to work with you to change that."

Oberhelman said he's being actively courted to move.

"I have been called, 'cornered' in meetings and 'wined and dined' -- the heat is on," Oberhelman wrote. "Before, I never really considered living anywhere else and certainly never considered the possibility of Caterpillar relocating. But I have to admit, the policymakers in Springfield seem to make it harder by the day."

Cat spokesman Jim Dugan said the letter was designed to show Quinn that Oberhelman wants to be involved in finding solutions that benefit the company, which employs 23,000 people in Illinois.

"I view it as an olive branch to offer our help," Dugan said.

Quinn plans on discussing the letter with Oberhelman April 5 when the two meet at a conference in Peoria. The governor also plans on touring Caterpillar facilities at that time, spokeswoman Brie Callahan said Friday.

"The governor welcomes frank and open exchanges between the business community and government, and we are always open to new ideas that can help our businesses grow, innovate and create jobs," Callahan said.

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Oberhelman didn't single out any specific problem with the state's policies in his one-page letter, but Dugan said the recent income tax increase -- signed into law by Quinn in January -- played a significant role in triggering the note.

The tax hike has led to attempts by other states, including Wisconsin, Indiana and New Jersey, to try and poach companies that don't want to stay in the Land of Lincoln.

Oberhelman also sent along correspondence Cat has received from other states.

"I stand ready to help convince you to relocate or expand in the fiscally conservative, low-tax Lone Star State," wrote Texas Gov. Rick Perry in a Jan. 24 letter.

"I encourage you to consider South Dakota as a place for your business to grow and prosper," noted J. Pat Costello, secretary of the South Dakota governor's economic development office.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman wrote in February to say, "In Nebraska, we balance our budget by controlling spending, not by raising taxes."

Republican leaders, who unsuccessfully fought Quinn on the tax hike, say the letter confirms why they were opposed to the increase.

"These are the kinds of letters we fear," said Patty Schuh, spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont. "Even more worrisome are the hundreds of businesses being wooed that we don't know about."

Schuh said the tax hike and the state's worker compensation costs on businesses "make Illinois a hostile environment, prime for the picking."

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