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House passes bill that spares state rep $444,500 in disputed taxes

State Rep. Monique Davis with Gov. PQuinn Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. FILE PHOTO.  | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times

State Rep. Monique Davis with Gov. Pat Quinn at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. FILE PHOTO. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 11, 2012 9:18AM

SPRINGFIELD — State Rep. Monique Davis’ Democratic friends in the Illinois House Tuesday spared her from a tax bill of at least $444,500.

By a 60-54 vote, with Davis voting present, the House entered into the legal dispute between the longtime South Side lawmaker and the Chicago Board of Education over her refusal to pay back rent and leaseholder taxes on her district office, which is in a school-owned building.

The measure would bar taxation on any property owned by a state or local government leased to another state or local government. It makes no mention of Davis, but the bill would essentially undercut a school system lawsuit against Davis.

That provision was tucked in a broader bill that would exempt a Wheeling office used for “disaster preparedness” and owned by the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System from property taxation.

Davis, who occupies a rent-free Chicago Board of Education building as her district office, was sued in 2009 by the school system in a bid to collect seven years of back rent of $75,000 and uncollected leasehold taxes and penalties totaling $444,500.

CPS contended that as a leaseholder of publicly owned property, Davis is responsible for leaseholder taxes dating back at least 20 years and totaling $157,500, plus close to $287,000 in penalties for nonpayment.

The Illinois Department of Revenue ruled back in 1998 that Davis’ use of the building for a district office did not make it tax-exempt.

Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) didn’t bring up Davis’ name when she presented the bill but later acknowledged the situation confronting Davis was an impetus for the amendment.

“I don’t consider this a bailout for Monique Davis,” Currie said, insisting that Davis’ district office is used for governmental purposes and thus shouldn’t be taxed.

Currie said she didn’t know what effect, if any, the legislation would have on the dispute between CPS and Davis in the state Court of Claims, where she is being represented by Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

But state Rep. Ed Sullivan (R-Mundelein) characterized the legislation as a bailout that circumvents the Court of Claims and deprives Chicago Public Schools of money that could go toward classroom instruction.

“By voting for this bill,” he said, “you’ll undue a lease before the courts, one. And two, you’ll get rid of $450,000 owed to the Chicago Public Schools. Is that what you want to do? Do you want to cut education funding to the Chicago public schools to the tune of $450,000?”

Davis voted present on the legislation, which now moves to the Senate, and later disputed that it enriches her in any way.

“How could it benefit me? I mean seriously, how could it benefit me?” she asked the Chicago Sun-Times.

When pressed about the tax exemption created under the legislation, she shot back at a reporter, “Wait a minute. Monique Davis does not pay property tax for other peoples’ property. Do you? Do you pay the property tax for the Sun-Times building because you work in it?”

“Give me a break,” she said before walking away.

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