Democrats call property tax freeze 'terrible,' set up showdown

Democrats Tuesday called a proposal to freeze property taxes "terrible" and "awful" but voted for it anyway to set up a showdown on the Illinois House floor in the coming weeks.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed freezing how much local governments can bill businesses and homeowners in the 2015 tax year but hasn't yet given lawmakers a specific proposal to vote on.

So on Tuesday, state Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat who has pushed ideas to cut property taxes in the past, presented his own version before an Illinois House committee.

"This may be our one time to help our citizens by freezing property taxes," Franks said.

Republicans didn't go along, saying details are still being worked out in private and that Franks' plan doesn't include important ideas Rauner has proposed.

"I'm not sure this is ready for prime time," state Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, said.

In the end, eight Democrats on the committee voted for the proposal, and Republicans voted "present," sending the legislation to the Illinois House floor, where it could be debated again soon.

"I think this is really a terrible idea," state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago, the House's No. 2 Democrat, said.

"But I do think the governor and his Turnaround Agenda deserve their day, in if not court, at least in the halls of the Illinois General Assembly," she said.

The move could be part of an ongoing political dance Democrats are doing with the first-term governor, bringing his ideas up for public debate to, in some cases, show they're not interested. If Democrats call for a vote on a tax freeze that doesn't match Rauner's plans, Republicans who have pushed for lower taxes could face a tough decision on how to vote.

Democrats approved two different versions of the property tax freeze Tuesday evening. One would freeze taxes for all local governments unless voters chose to allow a hike. The other would exempt towns with so-called home rule, usually those with populations of more than 25,000, from the tax freeze.

Lawmakers face a deadline at the end of a month to approve a state budget, and Rauner has said he wants them to approve his pro-business agenda before he will listen to talk about new taxes to fill an upcoming budget gap of around $6 billion.

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