Rauner effectively kills bill targeting Lake County chief assessment officer

Gov. Bruce Rauner has issued an amendatory veto effectively killing legislation that would have let Lake County voters decide how their chief assessment officer is hired.

The job is an appointed post held by Marty Paulson. His office oversees the work of township assessors and mails annual assessment notices to property owners, among other duties.

Paulson has feuded with some township assessors who say he ignored their reassessments. Paulson and the county have been sued twice by those assessors, but both cases were dismissed.

This spring, the General Assembly passed legislation that would have put a question on the Nov. 6 ballot asking if Paulson's job should be an elected position.

State Rep. Sam Yingling, a Grayslake Democrat, was the driving force behind the bill, which had bipartisan support in the legislature. He has called Lake County's property tax system "dysfunctional" and said the chief assessment officer can unilaterally increase assessments and drive up taxes.

Yingling led a petition drive this summer urging Rauner to sign the bill into law. He also had public support from several Democratic candidates for county offices as well as county commissioners from both political parties.

Critics of the plan, however, said changing how the assessment officer is chosen won't lower tax bills.

"The idea that an elected assessor would have one iota of effect on your property taxes is disingenuous, misleading and unfortunate," said county board member Steve Carlson, a Gurnee-area Republican.

The county board last month formally asked Rauner to use his amendatory veto power to expand the legislation so the same question appears on ballots for dozens of Illinois counties with board-appointed assessment officers.

Doing so would essentially spike the bill, because lawmakers don't return to Springfield for their veto session until after the Nov. 6 election.

Rauner issued that amendatory veto Monday. Rauner, a Republican, explained his decision in a message to the General Assembly.

"While this legislation promotes the accountability of property tax officials to the taxpayers they serve, it furthers a concerning practice of local carve-outs in state law," Rauner wrote. "What is beneficial to Lake County taxpayers and voters may also be beneficial to citizens across the state, who should get the same opportunity to determine whether an elected county assessor would better serve their communities."

Defeated on the issue, Yingling blasted Rauner in a news release and said the governor's maneuver denies Lake County residents the ability "to make our property tax system accountable to us in November."

"The people of Lake County are sick and tired of Governor Rauner ignoring our local concerns," Yingling said.

Fox Lake Republican Judy Martini was among the few county board members who supported the referendum proposal and opposed asking Rauner to veto the bill. She said she was "very disappointed" by the maneuver.

"Residents want accountability, and that's why this bill was popular," she said. "I believe democracy works at its best when we empower the voters to decide what role government has in their lives. Unfortunately, that empowerment was taken away from the voters by this veto."

The bill was the third piece of state legislation in the last five years to target Lake County government operations.

In 2013, the General Assembly stripped election oversight from the county clerk and created a Lake County election commission. County board Chairman Aaron Lawlor sued to block the change, and a judge declared the law unconstitutional.

Last year, legislators approved a plan to let voters elect the county board's chairman, rather than continuing to have members choose their leader. Rauner vetoed it.

All three efforts were initiated by Democratic lawmakers. Historically, Republicans have held majority control of the Lake County Board.

State Rep. Sam Yingling, a Grayslake Democrat.
  The text of Senate Bill 2544, which would have let voters decide if the Lake County chief assessment officer should be an elected position. Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an amendatory veto on Monday that effectively kills the bill. Russell Lissau/
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