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Tax Board Idea Suffers a Setback
Opinion Doesn't Deter Officials

Tuesday, September 30, 2003
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

The Cook County State's Attorney's Office has determined that the County Board does not have the authority to establish a taxpayer advocacy body envisioned by commissioners and Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn.

In an opinion issued Monday, the eve of a committee hearing to discuss the proposed measure, the county's lawyers said it lacks the authority under its home rule power to enact the ordinance creating the Taxpayer Action Board.

The lawyers also determined that, if the tax board were created, state law would prohibit the county treasurer from giving it a $250,000 start-up loan.

County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, standing with Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, announced the proposed taxpayer advocacy board earlier this month.

Modeled after the Citizens Utility Board consumer advocacy group that Quinn helped create, the taxpayer board would represent the interests of taxpayers and keep them informed about local tax policies.

Neither Claypool nor Quinn was deterred by the state's attorney's opinion.

"It has no legal effect whatsoever," Claypool said late Monday. "It's an advisory opinion and is, frankly, one that is very poorly reasoned."

Claypool called the opinion "almost contrived" and "a reach."

Quinn said his 30 years of dealing with state constitutional matters tells him the county has the ability to create the board.

"Home rule units are given wide authority to do what's best for the public," said Quinn, noting that there was resistance to the creation of the Citizens Utility Board 20 years ago.

"This is a battle between the taxpayers and the tax collectors. I put my money on the taxpayers."

The proposal has received broad support from county commissioners. Some critics, including the Civic Federation, have questioned the need for such an organization.

The 12-page state's attorney's opinion was sent to the office of County Treasurer Maria Pappas, whose staff requested the guidance in a letter last week.

The opinion says no state statute allows the County Board to create the tax body.

It says that any challenge to the ordinance would likely make a successful argument that the ordinance would have "an impermissible, extraterritorial effect on other governmental entities because it does not pertain strictly to its own government and affairs."

Citing case law, the opinion says the powers that would be granted to the tax board go beyond those even granted to the county.

The County Board's Finance Committee is scheduled to take public testimony Tuesday regarding the Taxpayer Action Board.



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