Rebelling against rising taxes is practically as old as the property tax itself, and in the forefront of the battle has traditionally been the usually vocal and less than subtle blue-collar home-owner.
Feeling squeezed between a cost of living that have risen faster than wages, it has most often been the lower-middle-income worker who has challenged city halls across the country, sometimes to the amusement of the more prosperous suburbanites.
Now, amid the shady streets and meticulously manicured lawns of comfortable suburban towns north of Chicago like Evanston, Winnetaka, Willmette, Glencoe and Lincolnwood, wealtier property owners have stopped smiling and have begun taking up the fight themselves.
And the level of their anger may be measured by the fact a generally estimated 1,500 homeowners in these towns have been withholding payment of their property taxes to the Cook County treasurer's taxes until their demands for tax relief are met.
According to Stephen Chapman of the National Taxpayers Union in Washington, this may be the nation's first tax strike. It certainly is the first on this scale.
The homeowners claim that a recent change in the tax asessments system and higher cost of government have incresed or more, in some cases, since 1972. They say that soaring real estate values will mean even worse news in the future.
"We have no idea how many people are withholding their taxes, but it's in the thousands," said Michael Hepple of Evanston, an organizer for National Taxpayers United of Illinois, an affiliate of the National Taxpayers Union.
Charles P. Steinbuck, also of Evanston and another taxpayer activists, said "people are saying, 'let's get it together.' They're angry enough to write [proposals for] legislation, and when you get people that hot, they're not going to let go."
A county treasurer's office spokesman said it is impossible to tell how many homeowners have actually with-held taxes, but he noted that as the deadline approached last month, the county was running about $163 million behind in levies collected.
Thomas Leach, the spokesman, attempted to minimize the effectiveness of the strike, saying that tax collections have been picking up recently and the county is close to being where it was at this time last year.
"We may not even notice 1,500 people until we get down to the tax sale," Leach said, referring to the December transfer of delinquent tax bills to private collectors, who pay the city the right to charge interest on overdue bills and for prospect of foreclosing on unpaid tax accounts.
The root of the controversy is an assessment sytem adopted last year in which tax is figured on 17 per cent of a property's fair marker value. From that base, school boards, town government and other taxing districts apply levies.
Previously, Cook County had set assessments on 22 per cent of replacement value of property, less depreciation.
Hepple claimed that the switch resulted in "outrageous" increases for some homeowners, but he estimated an average rise of 70 per cent for the north Chicago suburbs.
He cited the case fo an 82-year-old man whose only income is Social Security and who saw taxes on his $80,000 Evanston home increase in the last year from $400 anually to $1,200.
"The effect on people like them is devastating, to say the least," Hepple said.
Meanwhile, he said, a study of tax volls in two their communities showed that in the last year the taxes on property owned by the local assessors increased 2 per cent, while the average increase for other residents was at least 20 per cent. The taxpayer's group, as a result of the study, has filed court challenges to assessments on 26 properties.
The revolt began, Hepple said, when an Evanston resident complained bitterly in Chicago Tribune about rising taxes. James Tobin, a civil libertarian and president of Taxpayers United of Illinois, arranged a meeting in the town library.
"We expected 50 people and more than 200 turned out," Hepple said. Some of the people carried signs reading "Don't pay Crook County" and "Taxpayers on Strike."
To Tobin's astonishment, the group voted on the spot to withhold taxes, and other suburban towns soon followed suit.
Steinbuck said residents he has oganized earn at least $18,000 to $25,000 annually, and that the strikers include professional people, including retired doctors and lawyers. Most of them insist on remaining anonymous for fear their homes will be reassessed again.
The tax strikers appear to have already made some impression on county officials.
The sale of delinquent accounts was delayed a month, and officials say they will ask the legislature to lower the assessment rate one point, to 16 per cent.
But the tax rebellion has not let up in the face of the concession. The leaders are still demanding abolition of the fair market value system - in favor of an assessment sytem based on the 1967 dollar.
"We're not going to go away, as much as the government would like us to. They'll be hearing from us soon," said Hepple.