Lake County Board members spar over advisory property tax referendum

A divided Lake County Board voted Tuesday to put a question on the Nov. 6 ballot asking if the General Assembly should amend Illinois' Constitution and ban a statewide property tax increase.

The usefulness of the referendum was questioned by county board members from both sides of the political aisle.

The General Assembly is not considering such a statewide tax increase, opponents of the proposal said. Additionally, because the question is advisory and not binding, it has no actual legislative power.

"This is not going to stop anybody from raising taxes," Highland Park Democrat Paul Frank said.

Gurnee-area Republican Steve Carlson called the proposal "a waste of time."

Several other counties are considering or have considered variations of the question, too. The Kane County Board voted Tuesday to put it on ballots there.

Lake County Board member Michael Danforth, a Fox River Grove Republican, submitted a draft resolution for consideration during a financial and administrative committee meeting earlier this month, documents indicate.

On Tuesday, Danforth said the referendum will give people a "direct democratic voice" in Springfield.

But Frank called the proposal inappropriate, saying the concept of a statewide property tax increase isn't germane to the Lake County Board's business.

County board rules specify the panel should only take positions on issues that have "a direct impact on the core functions of Lake County government." Other board members, including Carlson, took the same stand.

Frank proposed delaying the vote one month, which would have made it impossible for the referendum to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. The board rejected Frank's maneuver.

Lake Bluff Democrat Sandy Hart pointed out legislators have no bill calling for a statewide property tax increase. She warned inclusion of the question on the ballot is "opening the door" for future referendums about hypothetical situations.

But Buffalo Grove Republican Sidney Mathias, a former state representative, said the General Assembly can create a bill quickly. Matthias also said such a proposal would affect the county board because "property taxes are a core function of what we do."

The measure eventually was approved by an 11-6 vote.

Waukegan Democrat Diane Hewitt was the only member of her party to favor putting the question on the ballot. Hewitt doubted the Nov. 6 vote would make a difference but said she supported the proposal for her constituents.

Hart was the only other Democrat who didn't vote against the plan. Despite her concerns, she voted "present."

Carlson was the lone Republican to oppose the measure. He predicted the vote would contribute to a growing divide between Democrats and Republicans on the county board.

• Daily Herald staff writer Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this report.

Lake County Board member Steve Carlson
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