January 24, 2012. Chicago. The taxpayer watchdog group Taxpayers United of America filed suit yesterday in Cook County Circuit Court against the Riverside-Brookfield, Illinois school board. The lawsuit claims that Riverside-Brookfield administrators used money from taxpayer coffers to fund a PR campaign in favor of a tax increase that would benefit their school district. Government entities and officials are bared from using taxpayer money to promote political campaigns, including referendums.
According to Jim Tobin, President of Taxpayers United of America, “In more than thirty years of anti-tax activism in Illinois, I can say without equivocation that this has been, by far, the most shameless, open and notorious use of public resources in support of a political outcome that I have ever seen.” The political effort Tobin refers to is the April 5, 2011 ballot initiative to raise property taxes in Riverside-Brookfield to fund the school board. The campaign by administrators included television commercials and physical mailings, all paid for with taxpayer money.
In accusing the Riverside-Brookfield School District 208 of illegal electioneering, Taxpayers United is asking the court to make a declaratory judgment and impose injunctive relief and civil rights damages.
This isn’t the first legal challenge made against this very same 2011 ballot initiative in Riverside-Brookfield. In April 2011, members of the Cook County Board filed an initial suit to stop the property tax increase ballot measure. In the suit, the commissioners argued that the dollar amount used on the ballot for voter approval wasn’t the actual amount that taxes would rise. In fact, voters were being shown a tax increase much lower than the actual increase they were being asked to vote on. In addition to Riverside-Brookfield, 8 other municipalities were sued for the same tactic. Officials didn’t dispute that accusation. Instead, school board authorities argued that they didn’t need to use the actual amount.
Since the school board was well aware that they were using fraudulent tax increase numbers, the suit named each board member individually as respondents. “The taxpayers in Riverside-Brookfield should not be forced to pay for the defense of these board members who knew what they were doing was wrong but went ahead and did it anyway,” TUA Vice President Christina Tobin said at the time. In response to the deceptive tactic of using phony tax increase numbers to mask much larger increases when asking voters to approve them on ballot initiatives, the Illinois House voted 110-0 to ban the deceptive practice.
TUA decided to act after both the Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Anita Alvarez failed to take any action. For more information on Taxpayers United of America, visit their website at www.taxpayersunitedofamerica.org.
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