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Illinois
WNIJ's summary of news items around our state.

No Changes In Illinois State Politicians' Stances On Property Tax Freeze

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The Illinois House rejected two versions of a local property tax freeze yesterday. That's one of a handful of items Governor Bruce Rauner says must get done before he'll consider new revenue to balance the state budget without widespread cuts.

The Senate spent all day in a rare session focused on property taxes. Rauner dismissed that as a waste of time.

"There is not a real sincere focus on controlling costs in local government, and truly freezing property taxes for the long term and giving local control for the long term,” Rauner said. “There's more just general vague discussion and, um, more commentary."

Speaker Michael Madigan says the two issues should not be connected, and the focus should be on the budget. But he says the House's attempt is a sign that Democrats are trying to compromise.

"We want to be reasonable and we want to attempt to be responsive to the governor, which is why we passed a workers' compensation bill last week and why we called bills today to freeze property taxes," Madigan said.

Governor Bruce Rauner campaigned on lowering local property taxes. The Republican says a freeze must come before he'll negotiate to bridge a $3 billion shortfall in the Democrats' spending plan.

Only one Republican voted for each of the property tax measures, while dozens of Democrats did. The governor and other Republicans say the Democrats were playing games by putting the bills up for a vote. Some Democrats say a property tax freeze should only be done in conjunction with a revamp of how Illinois pays for education. Schools are largely dependent on property taxes for funding. Rauner says he's willing to consider that, but doesn't believe it can be done quickly. A spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton says Rauner is trying to advance his "corporate-class agenda" at the expense of schools.

It's against this backdrop that Rauner began to use ever-harsher words in public to describe the two Democrats who lead Illinois' General Assembly. Both Speaker Madigan and Senate Pres. John Cullerton are Chicago lawyers.

"Mike Madigan, is making millions, millions from his law firm for high property taxes. John Cullerton making huge wealth form his law firm for government inside deals," said Rauner, who is a former private equity investor who made a portion of his fortune off of fees paid for contracts to manage state employee pension funds.

Shortly after Rauner made those remarks at a press conference at the governor's mansion, Madigan said his law firm, Madigan & Getzendanner, does something different; it tries to correct what clients believe to be errors in their assessed property values.

Madigan also says he's careful to avoid any conflicts of interest, saying "I go to great lengths to make certain there is a clear division between my law practice and my actions as a public official."

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