Everybody talks about skyrocketing property taxes, but nobody ever does anything about them.
About four months ago, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation creating a task force to study the state’s property tax system and recommend ways to ease what has become a steadily increasing burden on home owners.
Task force proponents didn’t hesitate to characterize the challenge they face.
State Rep. Jonathan Carroll, a Northbrook Democrat, said ever-rising property taxes are the “biggest issue” homeowners face.
“Rising property taxes are hurting home values and forcing seniors out of their biggest asset,” Carroll told reporters.
Well, time’s just about up — the task force made up of a bipartisan group of legislators and Pritzker appointees who include Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes faces a Dec. 31 deadline.
What’s on the priority list in terms of policy changes? There are few specifics, although task force chairman Sam Yingling, a Democratic House member from Grayslake, is promising big surprises.
“Introducing anything less than a substantial overhaul will not be tolerated by the public. This will be a heavy lift, and we’re going to have to make some tough decisions,” he was quoted as saying.
The sad fact is that Illinois politicians have been talking about reducing property taxes for decades and nothing much has come of it. From time to time, various public officials have suggested a trade — cutting property taxes in exchange for an increase in the state income tax.
Instead, taxpayers have gotten steady increases in both state income taxes and property taxes.
Here’s one of the dilemmas state officials face in dealing with the property tax problem:
Property taxes are levied by local units of government — the city, the county, the library district and, most important, local school districts. As state officials have run Illinois’ finances into the ground, local officials, particularly the schools, came to rely on higher and higher property taxes to finance K-12 educational and infrastructure needs.
So what is the state in a position to do?
Well, it can pass legislation that allows and encourages local governments to downsize.
Illinois, after all, has more units of local government funded by property taxes than any other state.
Does Champaign County really need 30 units of township government. School districts, either their business offices and administrative staffs or entire districts, could consolidate.
The problem, of course, is that people hate change, particularly those people who would feel the effects of change through consolidation.
There’s a school of thought that Pritzker’s people want to use the prospect of property tax reductions to persuade voters to approve his progressive income tax hike constitutional amendment that will be on the November 2020 ballot.
The idea is that he would direct revenue raised from a progressive income tax — rising tax rates on rising levels of income — to local units of government, thereby allowing them to reduce property taxes. It’s the trade thing again.
The problem there is that Pritzker has estimated his progressive income tax increase will generate $3.4 billion in new revenue. That’s not nearly enough money to satisfy all of the governor’s ambitious spending plans.
He’s promised that his progressive tax will hit only upper-income earners, those well into six figures.
But to generate the revenue Pritzker has said he wants to spend, he’ll have to raise taxes on middle-income earners as well.
But what does that have to do with property taxes and the task force’s obligation to address this serious and growing problem.
Well, we’ll see.
Yingling may be promising a blockbuster package. But if past is prologue, his words should be taken with a grain or two of salt.
After all, Pritzker recently signed legislation consolidating suburban and downstate fire and police pension funds.
Praised as a major step, one that would reduce local property taxes, it was just a small one that’s going to take a while to play out.
To make matters worse, the fire and police pensions are a small problem compared to this state’s property tax monstrosity and, of course, its monumental financial woes.
That’s why property owners would be wise to look forward with interest to the task force report, but not great confidence that positive changes will be forthcoming.