News Local/State

No Sign Of Thaw On Property Tax Freeze Divide, As Governor’s Rhetoric Against Madigan Heats Up

Gov. Bruce Rauner stands next to Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno and others decrying property taxes during a press conference in the governor's mansion gardens.

Gov. Bruce Rauner stands next to Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno and others decrying property taxes during a press conference in the governor's mansion gardens. (Photo: Amanda Vinicky)

Lawmakers' actions in Springfield today made evident there has been no thaw in state politicians' stances on a property tax freeze. It's one of various stalemates holding up a budget deal even as Illinois is weeks away from a potential government shutdown.

Gov. Bruce Rauner campaigned on lowering local property taxes; more recently the Republican has said a freeze must come before he'll negotiate to bridge a 3-billion dollar gap in Democrats' spending plan.

Though House Speaker Michael Madigan says the budget and Rauner's pro-business issues shouldn't be connected, he says Democrats are making efforts -- like on Tuesday debating two versions of a local property tax freeze.

"We want to be reasonable and we want to attempt to be responsive to the governor, Madigan said, "which is why we passed a workers' compensation bill last week and why we called bills today to freeze property taxes."

But both measures failed; only one Republican voted for each of the property tax measures while dozens of Democrats did. Republicans say it was a fake attempt, but Democrats say the plans mirror Rauner's proposal.

Meanwhile, the Senate spent all of the day in a rare session focused on property taxes, which Rauner called a "waste of time."

"There is not a real sincere focus on controlling costs in local government, and truly freezing property taxes for the long term and giving local control for the long term. There's more just general vague discussion and, um, more commentary," he said.

Rauner had met with Senate President John Cullerton in the morning about the issue, during which Cullerton's spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said the President told the Governor that a property tax freeze can only be done in conjunction with a revamp of how Illinois pays for education, becuase schools are largely dependent on property taxes for funding. Rauner said he's willing to consider that, but he doesn't believe it can be done quickly. Phelon says that shows Rauner is trying to advance his "corporate-class agenda" at the expense of school funding.

It's against this backdrop that Gov. Rauner began to use ever-harsher words in public to describe the two Democrats who lead Illinois' General Assembly -- both Speaker Madigan and Senate Pres. John Cullerton are Chicago lawyers. "Mike Madigan, is making millions, millions from his law firm for high property taxes. John Cullerton making huge wealth form his law firm for government inside deals," said Rauner, a former private equity investor who made a portion of his fortune off of fees paid for contracts to manage state employee pension funds.

Shortly after Rauner made those remarks at a press conference at the governor's mansion, the Speaker held one of his own at the state capitol.

Madigan says his law firm, Madigan & Getzendanner, does something different -- it tries to correct what clients believe to be errors in their assessed property values. He also says he's careful to avoid any conflicts of interest, saying "I go to great lengths to make certain there is a clear division between my law practice and my actions as a public official."

Madigan says in a recent closed-door meeting, Rauner was nothing but cordial, and the governor never brought up accusations involving his law practice.