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School tax limit nixed; D300 keeps eye on Sears proposals

Updated: December 10, 2011 10:01AM

SPRINGFIELD — State lawmakers have rejected a measure that would have prevented school districts in tax-capped counties, including Kane and all Chicago’s collar counties, from raising their tax rates if their property values dropped.

House Bill 3793 was voted down in the Illinois House when lawmakers reconvened Tuesday for the veto session in Springfield, according to the Illinois General Assembly website.

The bill also would have impacted general state aid appropriations for all Illinois school districts.

And that made Community Unit School District 300 “optimistic” about several other pieces of legislation that would affect the district’s property tax dollars, according to Superintendent Michael Bregy.

Optimistic, Bregy said, “but cautious, as this is the third time legislation has been created at the 11th hour without our input.”

He was talking about an amendment to keep Sears and other businesses in Illinois — added Monday to another bill, Senate Bill 397, by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago.

A nearly identical amendment to House Bill 1883 was filed Tuesday by state Sen. Senator Toi W. Hutchinson, D-Chicago Heights, and referred to the Senate Executive Committee that evening. That bill was co-sponsored by state Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge, who also had sponsored Senate Bill 540 and said during the first three days of the veto session last month he was drafting a compromise.

Both amendments would extend the economic development area (EDA) around Sears corporate headquarters in Hoffman Estates for another 15 years. That’s something District 300 has opposed for months, when it first was proposed in an amendment to Senate Bill 540.

That’s because the Carpentersville-area school district only would have received $2.9 million of the roughly $16 million in property taxes generated each year by the EDA under Senate Bill 540, according to the district. The rest would have gone back into the EDA.

Under both Senate Bill 397 and House Bill 1883, District 300 would receive nearly twice that amount — more than $5.9 million, according to the district.

And House Bill 1883 requires the EDA to be audited, a provision that was missing from Senate Bill 397, Kotowski said.

“That’s what I was worried about,” he said.

Otherwise, both bills include the same framework that Kotowski said he had pushed for in a compromise last month: Both would double the amount all 14 taxing districts within the EDA receive, require Sears to keep 4,250 jobs in Illinois, and penalize the company if it left the state, he said.

In a written release Monday night, Bregy had called the amendment to Senate Bill 397 “horribly wasteful in reaching its goal of keeping Sears here.” That’s because it would allow the village of Hoffman Estates to continue collecting money from the area if Sears left and use that money to operate the Sears Centre Arena, according to that release.

The district also has pushed for a compromise that would require an audit and joint review committee over the EDA.

District 300 leaders are in Springfield this week, hoping to push lawmakers to make some of those changes before voting on any legislation. Bregy, Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Crates and district parent Kathleen Burley of Algonquin testified against the amendment to Senate Bill 397 before the House Revenue & Finance Committee Tuesday evening and planned to testify against House Bill 1883 before the Senate Executive Committee.

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