Politicizing tax assessment is questionable for some GOP lawmakers
The Lake County chief assessment officer is one step closer to becoming an elected official rather than an appointed member.
Passing the House by 77-35 on May 29 and the Senate 45-5 on May 31, SB 2544, sponsored by Rep. Sam Yingling (D-Grayslake), gives voters the chance to decide if they would rather have an elected official than an appointed member assess their taxes via a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot. The bill's fate is now in the hands of Gov. Bruce Rauner.
“According to Forbes, Lake County is one of the highest-taxed counties in the country,” Yingling said when introducing the bill last week, adding that his bill would bring needed transparency to the taxing process. “Taxpayers in my district and Lake County are fed up and are demanding a level of accountability in the assessment process.”
However, the General Assembly does not have the authority to place the referendum question on the ballot, according to Rep. Nick Sauer (R-Lake Barrington), who read a letter from Lake County, which objects to the measure.
“It is well established in the... Illinois State Constitution and corresponding case law that it is unconstitutional for the legislature to enact special legislation that arbitraly discriminates without a legitimate state interest,” Sauer said.
Enabling the conversion of the appointment of chief assessment officer in one county within a state of 102 counties is arbitrary and has no state interest, Sauer said, adding that if the bill passes and the governor signs it into law, it is unlikely that it would withstand a legal challenge.
Reading on, Sauer said that in the event that the legislature is interested in a true reduction of government, its time would be best spent on consolidating offices within the county and addressing the tax code.
“I don’t know that making an office more political after seeing the things that we have seen in the County of Cook in recent times... is the right answer,” Sauer said, urging a no vote.
Rep. Mark Batinick (R-Plainfield) noted that he and the the sponsor have worked a lot on transparency over the years, but he was surprised that the two have differing opinions on SB 2544. Batinick then asked how the elected Cook County officer was doing.
“Well, as I recall, the voters in Cook County just fired their assessor,” Yingling said, offering the answer Batinick was seeking.
Yingling noted that Lake County citizens should have the power to decide.
“I think [that] providing them a question to decide if that is a power they want is reasonable,” Yingling said.
Batinick said that although that is a nicely prepared response to an obvious question, he added that Yingling is attempting to politicize the process.
“One of the main reasons I don’t support this bill is because I have not heard of one situation where this solved the problem,” Batinick said, also urging a no vote.
Getting right to the point, Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) said Yingling should not be pushing the local issue through the General Assembly. Instead, he should be addressing the real problem.
“You have the highest property taxes in the state, and, actually, you are in the top 1 percent of highest property taxes in the nation,” she added.
Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills) agreed with Ives that Lake County has high property taxes and said that is why he supports the bill.
“This actually allows the voters of Lake County to make the decision,” he said.
Concluding the debate with a question, Rep. David Olsen (R-Downers Grove) asked Yingling how the township assessors felt about the bill. Yingling said they are all for it.
“They are in support of the bill because they don’t feel that their decision should be overturned by an unelected individual,” Yingling said.
The decision is now in the hands of the governor.