By John N. McGovern, Executive Director, Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association, Northbrook, IL
In the spring legislative session, the state House and Senate passed a bill creating an exclusion from the statewide property tax cap. The exclusion was for the tax that park districts can levy to fund recreation for people with disabilities, provided through intergovernmental agreements called special recreation associations.
Everyone moans when the discussion turns to property taxes. But this tax is so low that most people are amazed. How low? For every $100,000 of home value, the maximum tax levy is $6 per year.
The General Assembly passed the bill and Governor Blagojevich had 90 days to either sign it or veto it. Much to our surprise, the Governor chose to veto this bill. The Governor's people told us that they would like to see a state grant program for special recreation instead.
Maybe a grant program is an idea with potential, but in Illinois the state cannot make ends meet as it is. A grant program would add to the budget woes. And no grant program is safe, as evidenced by this same Governor's decision to "take a holiday" from a grant program for open space for recreation agencies. Freeing this property tax from the tax cap assures that local communities will always be able to meet local needs cheaply and effectively.
The veto came in a late August meeting. Senate sponsor Don Harmon of Oak Park and House sponsor Julie Hamos of Wilmette began plans to pursue a veto override. Working hard with the bill's proponents, Harmon and Hamos persuaded more legislators to vote yes in the fall veto session than had voted yes in the spring. Included in that group was Representative Lee Daniels of Elmhurst, author of the statewide tax cap. The veto override was successful, and on November 18 this bill became law.
What does it do? The bill now makes about $36 million available statewide through local park district property tax levies. This allows local park district board committee members who believe a need exists to fund services to meet the need. It does not require a mandatory tax increase, but it gives local officials, those closest to the community, a tool to support recreation inclusion. The average across the state is that park districts levy about half of the tax available in the so-called special recreation fund.