Lawmakers push reforms for tax sales : Legislation aimed at making process fairer in Illinois

News-DemocratJanuary 14, 2011 

Lawmakers are banding together to push through reforms to make county systems of selling delinquent taxes fairer and more transparent.

Last week, State Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Greenville, introduced five bills into the Illinois House that, among other things, would ban tax buyers from giving money to county treasurers' campaign funds.

Dwight Kay, a Republican from Glen Carbon, has already pledged to support Stephens' proposals when Kay is sworn in as the state representative for the 112th District. On Nov. 2, Kay defeated longtime Democratic incumbent Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville.

State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, said he plans to sponsor Senate versions of Stephens' bills when the General Assembly convenes in regular session in January.

The reform bills have a strong chance of winning majority support in both chambers, McCarter said.

Republicans and Democrats, after years of scandal highlighted by federal corruption charges against former governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, want to clean up their images, McCarter said.

"Because none of us wants to be associated with the recent past," said McCarter, who was elected Nov. 2 by a more than 2-to-1 margin.

"As a legislator in Illinois today, you better set yourself apart, and what better way to set yourself apart than to demand transparency and accountability?" McCarter said.

The lawmakers' efforts at making tax sales less susceptible to abuse were sparked by a News-Democrat investigation in September of tax sales conducted by Fred Bathon, a Democrat who resigned as Madison County treasurer last December.

The News-Democrat stories showed how Bathon accepted large campaign donations from a handful of wealthy tax buyers, who were awarded no-bid interest penalties of 18 percent on delinquent taxes, the legal maximum. Several tax buyers earned more than $200,000 apiece annually from interest on the late taxes of Madison County properties.

Meanwhile, State Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, said he plans to sponsor a series of reform proposals when the legislature reconvenes in early January.

Haine's proposals do not ban political donations from tax buyers to county treasurers. But one measure being promoted by Haine would require counties to videotape tax sales, a step that Madison County Treasurer Frank Miles began taking when he came into office in January.

Miles has since lost his office to Kurt Prenzler, a Republican, who plans to continue the videotaping of tax sales.

"I don't believe videotaping is that onerous an expense anymore, given the state of the art," Haine said. "I believe everything should be videotaped. Even those proceedings that are conducted by computer, they should be on videotape."

Story published 11/22/10. Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 239-2533.

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