Lake County Board asks governor to veto bill seeking elected chief assessor

Lake County Board asks governor to veto bill seeking elected chief assessor

Frank Abderholden
6–8 minutes

The Lake County Board voted 14-5, with two abstentions, Tuesday to send a resolution encouraging Gov. Bruce Rauner to use his amendatory veto on a bill that would allow Lake County voters to decide via referendum if the chief county assessor should be elected instead of appointed by the County Board.

The resolution reads in part that the board is seeking Rauner’s veto to block a referendum question on the matter from appearing on “the next possible election ballot” in Lake County.

Chairman Aaron Lawlor criticized the bill, SB 2544, for what he described as being rushed through the legislature in Springfield in the final weeks without a transparent process, like the holding of public hearings. The bill calls for a binding referendum question on the assessor to be placed on the November ballot, with the first election of the county assessor planned for 2020.

The bill was sponsored by State Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake, who has campaigned against the resolution and urged the governor to sign the bill, which was passed by a bipartisan supermajority, which means legislators could override the governor’s veto.

“An amendatory veto by the governor would deny taxpayers the right to vote on the measure in November, and that’s unacceptable,” Yingling said. “It’s appalling that some members of the Lake County Board are so eager to ignore the will of the people.”

Yingling added a digital ad backing an elected assessor has been viewed more than 20,000 times on social media, and thousands of Lake County taxpayers have made phone calls to the governor to urge him to sign the bill. He said hundreds more have called Lawlor urging him to support the measure.

“Last week, I sent Gov. Rauner over 1,000 signatures from my constituents urging him to sign SB 2544 because the property tax status quo is not working,” Yingling said in a statement.

“I remain hopeful that Gov. Rauner will sign SB 2544 instead of interfering with the will of the people as the Lake County Board has chosen to do. Anything short of a signed bill from the governor will deny the taxpayers of Lake County their right to vote this November to make the property tax system accountable to them.”

County Board member Ann Maine disputed the idea that the issue was over if not voted on in November.

“We’re acting like November is the end-all to be-all,” she said. “Citizens can still vote. It doesn’t go into effect until 2020, so the vote can still take place.”

In the past, supporters of the measure have mentioned that delaying the referendum would place it with municipal elections, where a smaller percentage of voters come out to cast ballots.

The resolution states that this is the third time legislators have targeted Lake County with special legislation instead of including the other 60 counties that, like Lake County, have a peer-elected chairman who then appoints the chief county assessment official.

The five County Board members who voted against the resolution include Judy Martini (District 5), Paul Frank (District 11), Sandy Hart (District 13), Jeff Werfel (District 6) and Vance D. Wyatt (District 14). Terry Wilke (District 16 ) and Craig Taylor (District 19 ) were absent.

Martini said it was wrong that so many people have to contest their taxes, adding that, “Democracy works best when we allow people the right to vote.”

Hart pointed out that SB 2544 was supported by county legislators on both sides of the aisle, including Barrington Hills Republican state Rep. David McSweeney, who said he supports Yingling’s bill in theory because he believes it will eventually lead to the elimination of township assessors.

Hart said she did not see SB 2544 as a referendum on the current assessor, Martin Paulson, “but I will vote against this.”

Ela Township Assessor John Barrington, who led two unsuccessful lawsuit efforts against the county assessor’s office as president of the Lake County Township Assessors’ Association, said he supports the initiative to elect the chief assessor.

“This resolution will kill it in a politically correct way,” he said Tuesday, adding that the state should “let the other counties pursue their own referendum,” and that with the current system, if someone pays less in property taxes following an assessment appeal, that means someone else has to pay more.

Yingling has said that because of the “vast bipartisan support,” he feels the legislature would override the governor’s veto.

“If the governor uses his amendatory veto or veto, we don’t reconvene until after the November election,” Yingling said, which would mean the effort would be delayed until the next election cycle.

Lawlor has said in response in the past that there is nothing stopping the legislature from reconvening and overriding a veto.

Many of the County Board members in support of the resolution criticized those who were against it for saying that having an elected assessor would lower the property tax paid to the county, pointing out that other taxing bodies, schools in particular, are raising tax levies and property taxes.

District 7 board member Steve Carlson said one state legislator conducted a poll and found property taxes were a good issue that he wanted to use for his “personal political benefit.”

“It will not reduce property taxes,” Carlson said, agreeing with other board members this was special legislation targeting Lake County alone.

District 17 County Board Member Michael Danforth, an attorney, said he believes the legislation, “will be found unconstitutional” because it focuses on Lake County.

“Had it included the 60 other counties, I would understand, but it doesn’t,” he said. “There was no vetting. This did not go through committee meetings (in Springfield). There were no public meetings. It was done out of thin air.”

District 15 board member Carol Calabresa said that in her 32 years in office, “This is the most blatant power play I have ever seen. They singled out Lake County.”

She and other board members also felt the legislators in Springfield had no business telling Lake County officials how to run their government.

“We should follow the way they do business?” she said, adding that the county has a triple-A bond rating while the state owes billions in bills and pension payments.