Kadner: Springfield doesn’t like common-sense bills
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org April 12, 2013 11:36PM
Illinois Rep. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock)
Updated: May 15, 2013 6:47AM
There ought to be a law against your property tax bill increasing when the value of your home decreases.
And why isn’t it illegal for elected officials to hold more than one office at the same time?
State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock) has heard voters’ complaints and tried to pass legislation to address those issues.
“I got 25 fewer votes on (the property tax bill) this year than I got last year when it passed the House and it was killed in the Senate,” Franks said. “I got my ass kicked.”
I wrote about House Bill 89 last year. It would have amended the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL), commonly known as the “tax cap,” to freeze the amount that a taxing district can raise its annual tax levy if the collective value of homes in the district has decreased during the previous year.
“In Illinois, more than 28 percent of homes were underwater as of Jan. 1, yet taxing bodies act as though they are victims and continue to ask for more every year,” Franks said in a statement. “In fact, homeowners are being victimized by an unfair and outdated system, and it is driving people out of the state.”
During a telephone conversation on Friday, I told Franks that his bill may have lost votes in the House because home prices are on the rise. It may not seem as relevant to legislators to freeze tax levies as they did when the real estate market was falling.
“That’s true, but who is to say this won’t happen again in the future?” Franks said. “We passed PTELL when property values were skyrocketing to place limits on how much governments could benefit at the expense of taxpayers.
“We never foresaw the day that housing prices would fall. Now that we understand it can happen, why not address the problem?”
Franks knows that the real problem with the property tax system is that the state has shifted the burden for funding public education onto the backs of homeowners and businesses over the decades.
But no one in Springfield wants to tackle that issue because it has worked well to relieve the state of one of its few constitutional duties.
I like Franks. He’s often referred to as a maverick, with implications that he’s a publicity seeker or some sort of kook.
“I don’t think I’m a kook,” he said. “It’s what I’m here to do. I propose laws that the public wants.
Ultimately, we win these battles. It just takes time and public support.”
House Bill 3250, the Public Service Act, would place limits on the number of elected offices a person can hold.
It states that an elected official may not hold more than one public office simultaneously and specifies that the limitation applies whether or not elected officials receive compensation for a public office.
“You know about the problem in your area because you see people holding more than one office at a time,” Franks told me.
The Illinois attorney general’s office has issued opinions about certain public offices having a conflict of interest with others. But those are very narrowly defined, and the problem comes up often.
For instance, Crestwood Trustee John Toscas ran April 9 ran for mayor and for Worth Township assessor.
A question was raised about whether the offices would be incompatible if he held both. That became moot when Toscas was defeated in both races. Maybe the public had its say on the matter.
It concerns me that legislators have also held the post of township supervisor in the Southland.
State Rep. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island) is supervisor of Calumet Township and state Rep. Al Riley (D-Olympia Fields) is supervisor of Rich Township.
Bridgeview Mayor Steven Landek is also a state senator. He replaced Lou Viverito in the Senate. Viverito is the longtime Stickney Township supervisor.
State lawmakers have been under pressure to abolish township government, which receives money from the state. And municipalities not only get state funds, they actively lobby the Legislature on a range of issues.
Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki, who was once a state legislator, has told me he thinks mayors who are lawmakers bring a local perspective to state government. That’s probably true, but a mayor could resign his office after an election and still bring that perspective.
Should public officials be penalized while lawyers, insurance brokers, real estate agents and others are allowed to hold their jobs while serving as legislators or mayors?
It doesn’t seem fair. But it also doesn’t seem right to have a public official influencing legislation that would have an impact on his town or township.
Of course, Chicago mayors have found a way around that problem by working to elect lawmakers who do their bidding in Springfield.
The issue is academic because Franks couldn’t even get his bill limiting public service out of the House Executive Committee.
“It’s incumbent protection,” he said. “Insiders helping insiders. But I will continue to shine a light on it and explain it.
“But I could sure use the public’s support. Tell them to contact their lawmakers and back these bills when they come up.”
UPDATE: Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman (R-Orland Park) said that in response to reader reaction to this column, she has persuaded county board President Toni Preckwinkle to amend an ordinance that places a county tax on the sale of cars between individuals, including family members.
Gorman was not specific about the change but said it would likely come up for a vote soon.
The new tax could cost a college kid $175 for buying a used car with 200,000 miles on it from a friend for $500.