The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Miller
-Agenda 33-September 1998
A group of taxpayers filed objections in the circuit court of Du Page County to the application of the Du Page County collector for judgment on their 1993 real estate taxes, which the objectors had paid under protest. Of relevance here, the objectors contended that one category of tax levy was void because it violated section 17-1 of the School Code (105 ILCS 5/17-1 (West 1996)). The Du Page County collector moved to dismiss this objection, and the trial Judge granted the collector's motion. The objectors appealed, and the appellate court, with one Justice Dissenting, affirmed the dismissal order. 294 Ill. App. 3d 868. We allowed the objectors' petition for leave to appeal (177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)), and we now affirm the judgment of the appellate court.
The facts underlying the present controversy are not in dispute. On November 21, 1994, a number of taxpayers filed objections in the circuit court of Du Page County under section 194 of the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 120, par. 675 (now codified at 35 ILCS 200/23-5 et seq. (West 1996)) to the application of the Du Page County collector for judgment on their 1993 real estate taxes. The objectors had paid those taxes under protest. The taxpayers raised a variety of objections to levies imposed by a number of different local taxing bodies; the present appeal involves only one objection pertaining to levies made by certain school districts.
The taxpayers later designated Centerpoint Properties Corporation as the lead objector. The parties agreed that Itasca School District No. 10 would serve as a test case, and that all similarly situated school districts would be bound by the resolution of the Itasca case. The parties submitted a stipulation of facts to the trial court regarding the Itasca school levy at issue here. According to the stipulation, Itasca School District No. 10 operates on a fiscal year that runs from July 1 through June 30. The district adopted its budget for fiscal year 1993-94 on May 12, 1993. The district adopted a tax levy on December 15, 1993. At the time it made this levy, the district had cash and assets on hand to meet its estimated expenditures through June 30, 1994, without using any tax revenue generated by the levy, and it reasonably anticipated that no proceeds from the levy would be used until the beginning of the 1994-95 fiscal year, on July 1, 1994. The district adopted its budget for fiscal year 1994-95 on May 11, 1994. Because the Itasca district would not be using funds raised from a levy until the next fiscal year, the district was operating under what the parties term a cash-basis method of financing. See People ex rel. Manifold v. Wabash R.R. Co., 389 Ill. 403, 407 (1945). A district operating on a deficit basis, in contrast, does not have sufficient reserves on hand and uses the levy from the current year to help meet its expenses.
The objectors argued that the district's 1993 tax levy violated section 17-1 of the School Code and was therefore void. Section 17-1 provides, "If the beginning of the fiscal year of a district is subsequent to the time that the tax levy for such fiscal year shall be made, then such annual budget shall be adopted prior to the time such tax levy shall be made." 105 ILCS 5/17-1 (West 1996). The objectors contended that the levy adopted by the district in December 1993 was "for" fiscal year 1994-95 because the proceeds from the levy would not be used until then. The objectors theorized that because, in the language of section 17-1, the "beginning of the [1994-95] fiscal year *** was subsequent to the time that the levy for such fiscal year was made," the statute required the Itasca district to adopt an annual budget for fiscal year 1994-95 before it could make a levy that would be used at that time. In essence, the objectors believe that section 17-1 requires cash-basis districts to formulate their budgets for the next fiscal year before they make levies whose proceeds will be used in that fiscal year.
The collector moved to dismiss this objection pursuant to section 2-615(a) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615(a) (West 1996)). The collector argued that the levy made in December 1993 was "for" fiscal year 1993-94 because that was when it was made, and that the provision cited by the objectors was not violated because the school board had formulated its budget for fiscal year 1993-94 before it made the December 1993 levy. Following a hearing, the trial Judge granted the collector's motion, agreeing with the collector that District 10 had not violated section 17-1. The Judge also made a finding under Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (155 Ill. 2d R. 304(a)) to permit an immediate appeal from the ruling, and the objectors appealed.
The appellate court, with one Justice Dissenting, affirmed the dismissal of the objection. The court concluded that a tax levy filed by a cash-basis school district before the December deadline is a tax levy for the fiscal year in which it is filed, regardless of when the school district intends to spend the money resulting from the levy. 294 Ill. App. 3d at 874. The court therefore concluded that section 17-1 did not require the Itasca district to draft a budget for a subsequent fiscal year before making a tax levy that would produce revenue that would be used in the later fiscal year. The Dissenting Justice disagreed, believing that section 17-1 did require the district to formulate a budget before making a levy. 294 Ill. App. 3d at 875 (McLaren, J., Dissenting). We allowed the objectors' petition for leave to appeal. 177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a). The Illinois Association of School Boards and the Illinois Association of School Administrators were granted leave to submit a joint brief as amici curiae in support of the collector, as were a number of school districts located in Du Page, Will, and Kane counties. 155 Ill. 2d R. 345.
Section 17-1 of the School Code prescribes budgeting procedures for school districts with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants. Section 17-1 provides, in pertinent part:
"The board of education of each school district under 500,000 inhabitants shall, within or before the first quarter of each fiscal year, adopt an annual budget which it deems necessary to defray all necessary expenses and liabilities of the district, and in such annual budget shall specify the objects and purposes of each item and amount needed for each object or purpose. "*** "The board of education of each district shall fix a fiscal year therefor. If the beginning of the fiscal year of a district is subsequent to the time that the tax levy for such fiscal year shall be made, then such annual budget shall be adopted prior to the time such tax levy shall be made." 105 ILCS 5/17-1 (West 1996).
The controversy in the present case centers on the phrase "for such fiscal year" in the provision in section 17-1 that begins, "If the beginning of the fiscal year of a district is subsequent to the time that the tax levy for such fiscal year shall be made, ***." The objectors contend that the plain language of the statute requires a district to adopt a budget for a fiscal year before it makes a levy that will produce funds to be used during that fiscal year. The objectors point out, in support of their construction, that the preposition "for" may be defined as meaning "as a preparation toward," "in view of," or "having as goal or object." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 886 (1986). According to the objectors, the phrase "for such fiscal year" simply means, in the case of a cash-basis entity like District 10, the next fiscal year. In response, the collector asserts that the provision at issue is ambiguous and that it may also mean the fiscal year in which the levy is made. In support of the collector's interpretation, amici Illinois Association of School Boards and Illinois Association of School Administrators note that "for" has meanings besides those cited by the objectors, and that it may also mean "on account of," "as regards," "in respect to," or "concerning." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 886 (1986). In ascribing different meanings to the disputed provision, the objectors focus on when the proceeds of the levy will be used, while the collector focuses on when the levy is made.
As the appellate court observed, the objectors bear the burden of establishing the invalidity of the levy, for we will presume that the taxes were legally levied. People ex rel. Redfern v. Penn Central Co., 47 Ill. 2d 412, 418 (1971). The fundamental rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature. Nottage v. Jeka, 172 Ill. 2d 386, 392 (1996); Business & Professional People for the Public Interest v. Illinois Commerce Comm'n, 146 Ill. 2d 175, 207 (1991). We believe that the challenged provision may reasonably be interpreted in more than one way and therefore is ambiguous. See Advincula v. United Blood Services, 176 Ill. 2d 1, 18 (1996); People v. Jameson, 162 Ill. 2d 282, 288 (1994). The variety of different senses in which "for" is used suggests that the phrase "for such fiscal year" might refer either to the fiscal year in which the proceeds of the levy will be spent, as the objectors argue, or to the fiscal year in which the levy is made, as the collector contends. When a statute is ambiguous, it will be given a construction that is reasonable and that will not produce absurd, unjust, or unreasonable results, which the legislature could not have intended. Collins v. Board of Trustees of the Firemen's Annuity & Benefit Fund, 155 Ill. 2d 103, 110 (1993). It is appropriate here, then, that we consider which interpretation better effectuates the legislative intent and is more consistent with the goals of the legislation of which this provision is a part. In the present case, we believe that the construction advanced by the collector is more consistent with other provisions of the School Code and with other revenue-raising measures.
First, the provision at issue should be construed in a manner that is consistent with other, similar provisions. Notably, other tax-related provisions identify a tax levy by the year in which it is made, rather than by the year in which the proceeds from the levy are received or spent, as the objectors argue here. For example, section 9-175 of the Property Tax Code provides, "The owner of property on January 1 in any year shall be liable for the taxes of that year ***." 35 ILCS 200/9-175 (West 1996). The School Code formerly provided a later deadline for Du Page County school districts' tax levy certifications, identifying that date as "the last Tuesday in February of the calendar year following the year for which the tax levy is made." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 122, par. 17-11. Tax collection cases similarly identify the levy at issue by the year in which it is adopted, rather than the year in which it will generate revenue. E.g., In re Application of County Collector of Du Page County for Judgment for Delinquent Taxes for Year 1992, 181 Ill. 2d 237 (1998). We note that the objectors themselves refer to the levy adopted by the district on December 15, 1993, as "the 1993 levy," and in their objections in the circuit court they alleged that they had "paid under protest taxes for the year 1993 ***."
Language elsewhere in section 17-1 suggests that a school district's budget will ordinarily be drafted around the time it is scheduled to take effect, rather than months in advance. Section 17-1 requires that a budget "contain a statement of the cash on hand at the beginning of the fiscal year, an estimate of the cash expected to be received during such fiscal year from all sources, an estimate of the expenditures for such fiscal year, and a statement of the estimated cash expected to be on hand at the end of such fiscal year." Under this provision, then, a budget is to contain estimates of receipts and expenses for the year, and an estimate of the cash expected to be hand at the end of the year, but a statement, and not an estimate, of the cash on hand at the beginning of the year. This suggests that the budget will be drafted around the beginning of the fiscal year to which the budget applies, rather than months in advance of that time, when "a statement of the cash on hand at the beginning of the fiscal year" could not be made.
In addition, we note that the objectors' interpretation would require cash-basis school districts to budget far in advance of the time when those districts would ordinarily know about their income and expenses for that fiscal year. Here, the budget for the district's next fiscal year, beginning in July, was adopted two months earlier, during the preceding May. The objectors, however, would require districts to formulate their budgets long before the customary beginning of the fiscal year, given the December deadline for filing tax levies (105 ILCS 5/17-11 (West 1996) (school districts must file tax levies by last Tuesday in December)). Procedural requirements imposed by the Truth in ...