Governor and Madigan play chicken
September 27, 2007
Remember that scene from the movie "Rebel Without A Cause," where actor James Dean and a rival play a game of chicken by racing their cars toward the edge of a cliff?
Well that's Gov. Rod Blagojevich and House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) as they take this state to the precipice of financial collapse, totally disregarding the danger ahead, each trying to prove his manhood by making the other blink first.
As the governor might say, this is about testicular virility and little else.
Their latest game of chicken is being played out over a bill that would place a cap on property tax bills in Cook County.
Madigan passed his version, extending the so-called 7 percent solution (set to expire this year), in the House, and it was approved by the Senate.
Blagojevich decided to use his amendatory veto power to alter the bill, increasing the exemption for homeowners and making the tax break permanent. Madigan's legislation would have phased it out over a three-year period.
As a result of this political maneuvering, county Assessor Jim Houlihan, who has aligned himself with Blagojevich, refused to send out property tax bills in a timely fashion this fall.
School districts in this state derive, on average, about 67 percent of their revenue from the property tax.
Other government entities - such as cities, villages, library districts, fire districts and park districts as well as Cook County government - also receive property tax money but have other sources of revenue that they can rely on in a crunch.
But school districts already are facing a financial crunch.
Some have dipped into their reserves to pay their bills, losing interest that could have been earned on that money.
Others are selling tax anticipation warrants, which are short-term loans that will be repaid when property tax revenue starts coming in.
The interest on such loans, I'm told, generally runs about 4.5 percent.
That's money that is forever lost and will never make it to the classroom.
The governor, in the past, has made a big deal out of tax money that is not spent in the classroom.
But that's when it was to his political advantage.
Well, Blagojevich's veto is now causing school districts to completely waste their money, and he knew that when he altered Madigan's bill.
But the governor's main concern was making Madigan look bad.
He hoped to do that by amending the measure in a way that would promise homeowners hundreds of dollars, perhaps even thousands of dollars, more in savings on their property tax bills.
Madigan on Wednesday announced he would ask the House to override the governor's veto.
But Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) is allied with Blagojevich. He will not allow the governor's veto to be overridden there.
When both chambers vote differently in a situation like this, nothing happens.
The old bill is dead. The governor's amended bill is killed.
So the clock will keep ticking as the assessor tries to figure out what to do with those property tax bills.
If he sends them out with no tax cap provision, homeowners in Chicago in particular will be hit by skyrocketing property tax payments. The state's attorney's office, which acts as the legal counsel for county officials, already has advised the assessor that he's legally obligated to do that now.
The assessor has chosen to ignore that advice.
School districts have bond issues that come due Dec. 1. If property tax money doesn't start arriving by then, they will have to take out even larger loans, for millions of dollars, paying still more interest.
The school districts could file a lawsuit demanding that the property tax bills be sent out now.
That hasn't happened.
Maybe they're worried people will point the finger at them for the higher property tax.
What the school officials should do is hold a news conference and rip the governor and Madigan for the state's failure to reform school funding.
That's the reason why a property tax cap was needed in the first place and property taxes skyrocketed.
But they don't want to offend Blagojevich and Madigan. Everybody knows these guys are in a take-no-prisoners blood feud.
In the hope of speeding the property tax process along, the Cook County clerk sent out estimated tax rates by fax to about 900 government bodies Wednesday.
"Please be advised that the information on the enclosed reports was generated using the figures provided to our office by the Cook County assessor's office and are based on provisions of HB 664, which the governor amendatorily vetoed on Sept. 20," the notices state.
But Madigan plans to override the governor's veto.
He also plans to propose new legislation on the tax cap and send that over to the Senate as well, according to the House speaker's spokesman.
People keep telling me these two fellows will have to have a meeting of the minds at some point because the state is heading for a disaster.
Blagojevich and Madigan aren't going to bail out.
When the car goes over the edge, they know they're not going to be in it.
Phil Kadner can be reached at email@example.com
r (708) 633-6787.
http://www.dailysouthtown.com/news/kadner/576924,092707kadner.article (broken link)