By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD — A state senator’s Facebook post about home rule has sparked a debate among an opinion writer, alderman and the man who led the charge to repeal the provision in 1983.
State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, posted a chart showing Rockford’s 9.2-percent increase in property taxes from 2006 to 2016. The chart, “Does Home Rule Really Provide Property Tax Relief?” shows Rockford among eight home rule cities, each that have seen significant tax increases over the last decade. Among them are Peoria, which saw a 50.2-percent increase; and Waukegan’s hike of 105.6 percent.
It didn’t take long for the Rockford Register Star’s Chuck Sweeny to chime in, drawing quick response from John Gile, who helped repeal home rule 35 years ago.
“Dave, you like to throw spit wads at the players from the cheap seats,” Sweeny said. “Last time I checked, you were a state senator, not an alderman.
“You represent a district specially created for you by John Cullerton as a courtesy to one of your benefactors.”
Syverson stayed relatively reserved, only responding to a few random comments. Gile, however, quickly cited data he’s compiled on his website, where he claims Illinois’ version of home rule is a tool to gouge taxpayers without public input.
“Chuck Sweeny, your attack on Senator Syverson is interesting,” Gile said. “The last time I checked, being elected state senator did not disqualify a citizen of Rockford from having and expressing an opinion on issues affecting his home town. Is that a new law passed by Madigan and Cullerton and their band of hooligans in Springfield?”
First Ward Alderman Tim Durkee, one of a few area Republicans in favor of home rule, also joined the thread, noting that as a Rockford citizen, he also pays exorbitant property taxes. The OB-GYN also jabbed at Gile’s stand against why Rockford should remain a non-home rule city.
“People like John Gile have a shallow, one dimensional view of home rule–taxes,” Durkee said. “Frankly, its idiotic. People who think that not having home rule kept their taxes low or will continue to keep their taxes low are following a fool’s argument.
“Folks like John Gile would prefer to have the clowns in Springfield control the destiny of Rockford. …How do you think that will work? How about all of you read exactly what home rule does. It exists across the U.S., not just Illinois. If it is so bad, why do most communities have it? …Would you rather see user fees versus over reliance on property taxes? …Don’t be a lemming”
To Gile, it’s never been about leading dumb, misguided birds down the wrong path. The book publisher claims his reason for chiding home rule has nothing to do with a claim to slash taxes.
“No one promised to reduce taxes with the repeal of home rule,” Gile charged back, “[It was] merely to put control of taxes — and of regulating and incurring debt — under the control of the citizens instead of under complete control by the political class and their special interest beneficiaries.”
Sweeny continued the yarn and welcomed further debate, but reminded Syverson to “check his numbers.”
“He has an opinion. I have an opinion. You have an opinion, John,” the longtime columnist said. “If you read what I write, you’ll know I have criticized Madigan and his iron-fisted rule many times over the years. I also have criticized Rauner. The city is faced with the same problem as other cities. The legislature promised state and local workers’ pensions that they knew we could never afford and now the bill is coming due.
“And they’ve underfunded the payments. Locally, our EAV has gone down dramatically while our tax rate has gone up. Still, the city has lowered its tax levy for the next year. I’d like to see all the critics actually run for office; then they’d have to actually back up their airless opinions with facts — something they could not do!”
Sources say a PAC is being formed to challenge Rockford For Home Rule, the citizen group announced Nov. 15. Details of who will comprise the rival committee have not been announced. Whether to place a home rule referendum on the March 2018 primary ballot will be up for discussion Monday night at the Dec. 4 meeting of the Rockford City Council. R.