APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Franklin County; the Hon.
HARRY L. ZIEGLER, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE GEORGE J. MORAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
The defendants, landowners in Franklin County, Illinois, appeal from a judgment of the circuit court of Franklin County which overruled their objections to taxes levied upon their lands for the years 1971 and 1972.
The principal questions in this appeal are whether farmers, as a class, are denied equal protection of the laws by the levying of burdensome real estate taxes upon their farms, and whether the parents of school-aged children who reside in poor school districts are denied equal protection of the laws by Illinois' method of financing public education, in violation of the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 2, of the 1970 Illinois Constitution.
The defendants, of whom there are about 228, all own land in Franklin County, Illinois. Some are farmers and some are parents of school-aged children who live in Franklin County. The record does not show which defendants fit within either or both of these categories.
Two hundred and five of the defendants paid their real estate taxes for 1971 under protest, in accordance with section 194 of the Revenue Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, par. 675). Pursuant to sections 232 and 235 of the Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, pars. 713, 716), the treasurer of Franklin County, as the ex-officio tax collector, made a list of the lands on which taxes had been paid under protest, and applied to the circuit court of Franklin County for a judgment for the amount of the taxes. The defendants filed written objections to the taxes as required by section 235 of the Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, par. 716). The defendants did not attach to the written objections original or duplicate tax collectors' receipts showing that the taxes had been paid.
One hundred and twenty-one of the defendants paid their 1972 real estate taxes under protest. The county treasurer, as the ex-officio collector, again applied to the circuit court for a judgment for the taxes. The defendants filed their written objections but did not attach collectors' receipts to the objections.
The proceeding on the first application was delayed. The two applications were consolidated and heard together.
On April 25, 1974, the People (hereinafter called the "collector") moved to dismiss the defendants' objections. The motion was denied. The collector later moved to sever the objections of the defendants and to require the defendants to object individually in separate actions. This motion was also denied.
On September 23, 1974, a hearing was held on the applications and objections. The defendants called as a witness an agricultural economist who testified that Illinois' system of real property taxation places a heavy burden on the State's farmers. He said that real estate taxes consume about 2% of the average Illinois citizen's gross income, but about 21% of the gross income of most farmers. The economist testified also that real estate taxes were onerous because of their inflexibility; that is, the usual amount of real estate tax accrues for a farmer even though bad weather may have ruined his crops.
An employee of the Illinois Department of Local Government Affairs testified that the governor of Illinois had ordered the department to issue to all counties in Illinois property tax multipliers for 1972 which were identical to the multipliers issued for 1971, in apparent disregard of section 130 of the Revenue Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 120, par. 611).
No witness testified for the defendants concerning the alleged inequities of Illinois' manner of financing public schools. The defendants introduced several exhibits in evidence, however, which contained information relevant to this subject. One exhibit, the Illinois Statistical Report for 1972, published by the State of Illinois, showed in a table that Franklin County was able to raise only $462 in real estate taxes per student enrolled in the county's public schools, far below the State average of $627 in real estate taxes per enrolled student, even though the tax rate in Franklin County was $2.68 per $100 of equalized assessed valuation slightly above the State average of $2.64 per $100 of equalized assessed valuation. The defendants introduced in evidence tax collectors' receipts which showed that the defendants had paid their real estate taxes for 1971 and 1972 under protest.
On October 24, 1974, the circuit court entered a judgment in favor of the collector for the amount of the defendants' real estate taxes for 1971 and 1972, and overruled the objections to the taxes.
The defendants appeal. The collector attempts to cross-appeal from the order of the circuit court denying his motion to dismiss the objections.
The defendants and the collector advance the same arguments on appeal as at trial. The arguments are lengthy, but they must be set forth in order to ...