Activist broadens tax fight

An activist hopes to help shape a statewide movement to reform schools and oppose a bill that would change Illinois’ tax structure.

Harvard resident Cathy Peschke, who ran and lost as a write-in candidate for state senator earlier this month, said activists from throughout the state recently have been contacting her.

“They want to work together for education reform and to fight House Bill 750,” she said, referring to an education-funding bill that would shift more of the burden to income taxes rather than property taxes.

Peschke, who with her husband, James, runs a local school watchdog group that advocates spending and salary cuts instead of tax increases, said she also wants to work for school vouchers.

She said a meeting would take place in Carpentersville to coordinate the statewide effort. No meeting date had been set. Similar school watchdog groups in other parts of the state did not return calls for comment.

But Peschke likely will find ample support among conservatives as people throughout the state anticipate a legislative debate on House Bill 750.

Members of Illinois Freedom Works, a conservative group that advocates lower taxes, will actively oppose the bill, said Bruno Behrend, the group’s director.

He predicted that the bill will spark grass-roots activity throughout Illinois.

“It will be a big issue in one form or another in the next year,” Behrend said. “It’s such a huge tax increase, it will be a huge rallying point.”

Educators have expressed cautious optimism that the bill finally will fix what many see as a defective and unfair school-funding system that punishes students who live in poor areas.

Johnsburg District 12 Superintendent Robert Gough has said the bill could represent the best chance to reform school funding in 30 years.

At least one longtime Illinois political observer disagreed.

“I’ve had a hard time finding cause for their optimism,” said Mike Lawrence, who runs the Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has not come out in support of any tax increases, Lawrence said.

“I don’t think legislators are inclined to pass a tax increase unless the governor is leading the way,” Lawrence said.

That could mean good news for Peschke and other like-minded activists.

“They are beginning with a decided advantage,” Lawrence said.