Eye On Illinois: Taxpayers asked to underwrite assessors’ errors

When the government makes a mistake, who ends up paying?

If you answered “the taxpayers,” congratulations, you’ve been paying attention.

In May, the General Assembly adopted a measure allowing taxing bodies to increase levies to make themselves whole when forced to give refunds. Virtually every lawmaker voted in favor, presumably on the grounds that taxing bodies shouldn’t be forced to operate at a loss if an appeals board determines an assessment is too high for an individual property owner.

That argument does hold a bit of merit, especially if you support the types of things property taxes underwrite, like fire protection and public education. But the flip side is the refunds are spread across everyone who contributes to a given body’s revenue pool, even if that means pushing the basic levy beyond the limits on annual increases established under other laws.

Property assessment hearings and refunds are slow-moving processes compared to the annual municipal budget cycles, making it easy to envision a scenario wherein deep-pocketed property owners win lengthy appeals to earn huge refunds, the difference is eventually made up on the backs of the everyday homeowner and the actual fiscal trail is nearly indecipherable.

This legislation only works for the greater good if it drastically reduces erroneous assessments. While that goal is admirable, it’s unclear how the plan incentivizes either assessors or budget crafters to operate any differently. The latter already lacks leverage over the former, and while giving cities, counties and schools a degree of fiscal certainty is useful in terms of delivering services that affect daily lives, the end result means average taxpayers underwrite insurance allowing assessors to make errors.

This Day in Illinois History: In 1927, the state’s first motor fuel tax is established as a means of supporting road and bridge projects. The rate is 2 cents per gallon. Now, 94 years later, we pay 38.7 cents per gallon on gasoline and compressed natural gas, and 46.2 cents per gallon on diesel, liquefied petroleum and liquefied natural gas. That changes Thursday, when it climbs to 39.2 and 46.7 cents respectively. Those rates are independent of city, county and federal taxes. In some parts of the state the final bill for a tank of gas is around 40% taxes.

Culinary Checklist update: I’ve invited readers to share favorite menu items from Illinois restaurants to create a collaborative “must-eat” list for summer road trips. Today’s comes from a school friend still living in Lake County who recommends two items: Fried mushrooms at The Fogcutter in Lake Villa — “HUGE and yet always perfectly cooked!” as well as Fanella’s Pizza in Ingleside, which “has the absolute best BLT pizza we’ve had anywhere.” Share your favorites via email or social media.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.