By: Ted Dabrowski*
With property taxes squeezing seniors out of their homes and chasing Illinoisans over the border, you’d think Illinois legislators would finally deliver real relief to homeowners.
They’re not. The latest proposal that may get fast tracked and passed immediately is a good-for-nothing property tax freeze introduced by Rep. Michelle Mussman. The bill, SB0851, is part of the typical games politicians play, especially with campaign season coming on.
There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the property tax freeze proposal. The bill, like so many other “reforms” and “solutions” before it, does nothing to address the real drivers that are destroying the equity in people’s homes.
Instead, it just proposes a temporary freeze that will easily be circumvented by local governments. And taxpayers will be worse off because of it.
The failures of Mussman’s bill
Mussman and other lawmakers will try to sell her proposal as a good way to freeze Illinoisans’ property tax burdens. And to sweeten the deal, the bill even includes an increase to the general and senior homestead exemptions.
But her proposal doesn’t permanently freeze property taxes, which is what Illinoisans truly need to get relief. Instead, the bill freezes property taxes in Cook and the collar counties for just two years. It also requires residents in downstate counties to go through a referendum process if they want their own two-year freezes. (See below for a summary of Mussman’s proposal.)
The freeze itself is rather toothless. Property taxes for pension costs and debt service, which combined make up a significant portion of Illinoisans’ tax bills, are largely excluded from the freeze.
The bigger issue with Mussman’s plan, however, is that it isn’t paired with reforms that actually fix the problems that drive up Illinois property taxes in the first place.
The bill ignores the following problems:
- Government contracts that continue to dole out increasing salaries and benefits to workers.
- Local pension costs that continue to balloon.
- Unions that continue to bargain with the same stacked laws that benefit them over taxpayers.
- Unfunded mandates that continue to pile up costs in local governments.
- That Illinois still has the most units of government in the nation that Illinoisans still have to pay for.
- Community colleges that continue to grow their expensive administrations.
- Public construction costs that remain at a premium.
The Mussman bill also ignores that local governments will work to find ways around the freeze. They’ll borrow to pay for their costs. They’ll raise other taxes and fees. They’ll draw down reserves to dangerous levels. And they’ll make even more promises to the unions in the form of future benefits.
Any way you cut it, that means spending will continue. And property taxes – after the two year freeze expires – will jump.
That’s the mess Mussman and others will make for Illinoisans. It’s the same mess they’ve been making for decades.
Illinois legislators have a failed record when it comes to fixing the budget, the pension crisis and property taxes. It’s why the state hasn’t had a balanced budget in 17 years, why the state pension shortfall has grown to $130 billion and why Illinoisans now pay the highest property taxes in the nation.
Illinoisans need real property tax relief. And unless lawmakers reform the policies that drive property taxes ever higher – from the most units of local government in the nation, to the seventh-highest workers compensation costs, to state-subsidized spending – they’ll never get it.
*Ted Dabrowski is President of Wirepoints. Opinions expressed are his own.
Appendix: Details of Mussman’s proposal, SB 851 HA1:
- Mussman’s bill creates a property tax freeze for two years in Cook and the collar counties and includes both non-home rule and home rule districts.
- In addition, it also allows residents in downstate counties to submit and vote on referendums to freeze their own property taxes for two years.
- It equalizes and increases the senior homeowner exemption to a maximum reduction of $8,000 for all counties in 2018 and thereafter.
- It equalizes and increases the general homestead exemption to a maximum of $10,000 for all counties in 2018 and thereafter.
- It still allows voters in individual communities to override the freeze via a referendum.
- It creates exceptions to the freeze:
- Property tax increases designated for repayment of bonds or for pension payments are largely exempt from the freeze.
- “Qualified” school districts are exempted from the freeze. Any district that’s on ISBE’s “financial watch” status list is exempt from the freeze. In addition, any district that’s on “early warning” status and has been granted a “hardship” exemption by the state superintendent is also exempt.