People talk about reforming the property-tax system, but the costs mostly just go ever higher.
A staggering property tax bill can be evidence of the owner’s massive wealth. It also can reflect taxes that have been increased to exorbitant levels by multiple local taxing bodies.
Increasingly, it’s come to represent the latter in Illinois, as demonstrated by a couple of sorry statistics dredged up by public oversight bodies.
Wirepoints reports that a review it conducted “of median home values across the nation found that Illinois ranked 45th in median home value growth between 2005 and 2017, according to the U.S. Census. ... Illinois home values only increased a paltry 6 percent over the entire period, far short of inflation, which was up 26 percent.”
It also found that “home values in the top 10 states increased by 54 to 120 percent.”
What’s the problem? The Illinois Policy Institute reports that “average home prices in Cook County are 31 percent lower today than in 2007, adjusted for inflation,” while property tax bills there have “jumped by 22 percent, after adjusting for inflation.” In other words, the higher property taxes are, the lower the value of a person’s home.
Illinois has a serious property tax problem, and it’s had it for a long time.
While there’s been plenty of talk acknowledging the problem, it’s never amounted to much.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker took another whack at the issue earlier this week when he signed legislation creating a Property Tax Relief Task Force to study the issue.
No one should be so foolish as to get their hopes up. Commissions like this are, generally speaking, created to appease public opinion and create the illusion of serious action.
Look at the work done by former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s commission to reduce the size and cost of government in Illinois. While some of its recommendations were adopted, most were ignored.
One of the problems was that recommendations stepped on the toes of too many people who benefit from the dysfunctional status quo.
Nonetheless, the people of Illinois can hope that this time and on this issue the results will be different.
Pritzker said the “bipartisan, bicameral property task force will review the entirety of our property tax system, study best practices in other states and make our system more fair to everyone.”
Among those serving on the task force are Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes, first assistant chief of staff Emily Miller and Cameron Mock, chief of staff in Pritzker’s Office of Management and Budget.
The group is scheduled to issue a preliminary report within 90 days and a final report by the end of the year. That’s not a lot of time to put together a thoughtful expose of the issue.
Much of the discussion regarding property taxes relates to public schools. K-12 consumes the lion’s share of a property tax bill, but there are many other taxing bodies — cities, counties, park districts, community colleges and townships, to name just a few.
So it would seem that any realistic proposal to deal with the problem would include reducing the size and scope of government by eliminating and/or consolidating units of government. They include townships and school districts’ business offices, to name just two proposals that have been made in the past.
Once again, however, reorganizing government — no matter how much sense it makes or money it saves — discomfits individuals whose fiefdoms would be disturbed.
Judging by his multiple tax hike proposals and his seemingly endless proposals for more social spending programs, Pritzker dreams of being a transformational governor, one who remakes the social contract and tax structure the state negotiates with its citizens.
That will be impossible unless he can raise the money to pay the mammoth bills. To do that, it’s necessary to address rising property taxes.
That’s been said before, of course, and nothing has come of it.
The best anyone has proposed is a sham swap, permanent increases in the state income tax in exchange for temporary reductions in property taxes.
Pritzker’s task force must do far better than that if he wishes to be a successful governor.