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Illinois Lawmakers Pass on Proposals To Provide Property-TaxRelief

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The Illinois legislature last week considered but decided not to approve a property-tax relief measure that educators charged would have eliminated a substantial portion of the new funding that school districts are set to receive under an income-tax increase passed this year.

The measure represented a scaled-down version of an earlier proposal that Superintendent of Education Robert Leininger had said would "kick the legs from underneath local school districts which are trying to recover from the state's past neglect in education funding."

The property-tax relief proposal4touched off a heated but brief battle during a six-day veto session normally used to respond to the governor's actions on bills passed during the regular legislative session, which ended in June.

On one side were legislators--primarily from Chicago and its suburbs--who returned to Springfield after being criticized by constituents for failing to pass a property-tax relief measure during the regular session.

Taxpayers were upset because tax bills in Chicago and surrounding suburbs in Cook County have increased by 40 percent over the past four years, said Richard B. Vanecko, director of community relations for the Cook County assessor's office,8which sparked the battle last month with a new proposal for property-tax relief.

"Taxpayers are at the limit of their patience and their ability to pay," he said.

Curtailing Education's Gains?

On the other side were many educators and their supporters, who argued that property-tax relief would undermine their recent victory in obtaining an income-tax increase, half of the proceeds of which are earmarked for education.

"Whatever gains we realized with the temporary income-tax increase would be seriously curtailed by the erosion of local revenue for education," Mr. Leininger said during a hearing on the proposed measure. "Furthermore, the timing of the proposal in light of efforts to stengthen our schools is particularly poor and will bring educational improvements to a screeching halt."

Siding with the educators were lawmakers--and Gov. James R. Thompson--who acknowledged a need to reform the state's tax structure but said that the pending proposals were not broad enough to correct the system's flaws.

"The Governor wants reform that is both meaningful and doesn't gut the effort we've made on behalf of education in the past six months," said David L. Fields, Mr. Thompson'spress secretary.

Supporters of the property-tax relief proposals questioned the severity of the financial impact on the state's schools.

The measure "wouldn't be money out of their pockets," said Mr. Vanecko. "It would prevent them from getting as much money as they could in increases."

"We think the whole effort was hasty and misdirected," said Richard H. Clemmons, chief lobbyist for the Illinois Farm Bureau, which has spearheaded a major drive in recent years to reform the state's school-finance system.

"They were not dealing with the basic problem, which is an overreliance on property taxes to fund education," he said.

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